Reflections From ROMANS 10: “THE WORD OF FAITH IS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION—CONTRA INCLUSIVISM’S CLAIM”

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            Paul picks up where he left off in the previous chapter referring to Israel and their present standing before God.  He prays for Israel’s salvation but knows that their ignorance of the gospel is the reason they’re not yet redeemed.  Their zeal for God has blinded them (zeal without knowledge Scripture condemns) to God’s righteousness while trying to establish their own through law-keeping (Vv.1-3):

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

Paul continues to pound the anvil with the hammer of Christ’s work and says that, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes, for Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness” (Vv.4-5).  Paul here is quoting Leviticus 18:5 which is the giving of God’s moral commands and says:

You shall keep my statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD

It seems that the life of the individual is to rely solely on his ability to do the requirements of the law.  It seems that Paul is accentuating the motif again between Christ’s righteousness which is given not merited (thus crushing human boasting), it’s imputed not earned.  Recall that the Law’s purpose was never to be a means of “I do and God rewards”, but instead to shine the light on the sin within, never was it to liberate us from its jaws.  If one trusts in law-keeping to become righteous before God it will only result in death.

Having said that, a believer must not conclude all is well even if he lives an immoral life.  This is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel, for to be in Christ produces the fruit of obedience to God (never without the struggle of Rom.7).  Here, the believer has been freed from slavery to sin in order to live for God.  And by living for God we are thus freed to live for one another (Rom.5:17-6:23; 8:1-14).   By Israel trying to establish their own righteousness apart from Christ, they have rejected God and have been cut off from life indeed.

So the righteousness based on law can’t save, but the righteousness based on faith (i.e., Christ’s work) does save (Vv.6-7):

But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

I’m however a bit puzzled here about the meaning of verses 6-7.  First, verse 6 is a quote from Deuteronomy 30:12 where God is laying out before Israel the blessings and cursing if they choose to obey or disobey.  Now much attention in Deuteronomy 30 is given to what God did and will do for Israel: namely restoring them from captivity which we know occurred because of their idolatry.  God is said to:

…restore you from captivity…have compassion on you…etc”.  (Deut.30:3-8) “circumcise your heart (v.6) to love the Lord which is to obey the Lord (v.8)

This word of salvation is not far, seems to be the point or would eventually manifest (which it did in Christ the Logos), but is now here.  Still a bit hazy on verses 6-7.  Nevertheless, the word is being preached and its content is faith (trust) in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah who conquered the grave and offers the righteousness of God as a gift to all peoples and this word will not disappoint because God always keeps His promises.  Let God be true and every man a liar (Vv.8-13):

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”                  

This word of faith however comes in a specific way which if not given dooms sinners with no hope of rescue.  Paul now asks four rhetorical questions which an inclusivist view of salvation seems to contradict.  I’m going to point these out in reverse order because the apostle Paul begins with the end and ends with the beginning of the logical order (Vv.14-15):

“14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

First, there’s the bearer of good news whose beauty is too often hidden from those presented with the Gospel (v.15).  Second, there’s the need to send vessels willing to impart this good news which means they must be supported with finances and prayer.  Third, the sent must be preachers who proclaim the news of the Kings arrival in a way that’s understandable so that people may have the opportunity to both hear and respond to the message.  Fourth, hearing is essential for belief to arise, otherwise they will not trust in Christ which is the word of faith that requires preaching.  Fifth, after the message is preached and the preacher heard, people then have an opportunity to believe and when belief arises, then one is ready to call on the Name of the LORD and be saved.

Now Paul says that that word is preached in both creation (v.18 cf., Ps.19:4) and through the prophets (Isa.53:1; Dt.32:21; Isa.65:1-2).  And so in response to Israel’s hard heart, God will stir them to jealousy by revealing to the pagan world Christ’s righteousness of which the apostle has been writing.  Thus, Israel has no excuse for their unbelief and God is not unjust having mercy on whomever He wills.

But when the word goes forth and people respond we must understand that God has ordained conversions to happen through the word of Christ—God’s word of promise fulfilled in the Messiah by the lips of a preacher proclaiming it.  This is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to the called, Christ is both the wisdom of God and the power of God to us who believe.  (SDG)            

Reflections From ROMANS 9: “GOD’S ELECTION IS NOT UNJUST BUT MERCIFUL”

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This chapter begins a new thought in Paul’s letter.  The first eight chapters dealt with what the gospel is, why it is the only hope for Jew and Gentile alike, and because in Adam all sinned, everyone is justly under God’s wrath and in need of divine mercy for salvation.  This salvation, redemption is a work of God that affects our word and deed.  And while this salvation is real, residues of rebellion remain in the believer’s heart such that until final glorification, a war is constantly being waged within.

Now, Paul turns his attention to the theme of Israel and her rejection of the gospel of God.  He first reveals his passion and longing to see his kinsmen according to the flesh saved and loving Christ, because after all it’s through them that this gospel came (Vv.1-5):

“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Second, he points out however that God’s word has not failed concerning their rejection of Christ because the descendants of Israel actually come through Isaac not Abraham.  He explains this further in relation to the flesh vs. the promise motif.  That is, through Isaac’s seed the Messiah would come, never through Ishmael.  This word of promise is a major Scriptural theme pointing to God’s faithfulness to execute His word.  Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mt.5:18)  This means that God always keeps His promises.  And what He will and will not do is more certain than the heavens above or the earth below—which accentuate God’s constant faithfulness.  And as God told Abraham, so it has come to pass that through Sarah, not Hagar, Messiah would come.

Consider Rebekah’s twins Esau and Jacob which again reveal the motif of God’s certain promise which points to His sovereign will ruling over all rather than man’s finite choosing:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”        

             This passage clearly demonstrates God’s choosing or election of what He has decided to do through Jacob and Esau.  I noticed here something previously overlooked: could it mean that God hating Esau is equivalent to Him serving his younger brother or is that hate based on what Esau treasured which was a bowl of soup over against his birth-rite?  This needs further inquiry, but I’m leaning towards the latter option, not the former.  Nevertheless, Paul asks a question he anticipated would be raised:

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!”

 Third, often God is accused of being unjust in light of election but the apostle emphatically says that is never the case.  Thus he proceeds to recount Pharaoh’s hardened heart and concludes that God chooses who will receive mercy and who does not.  The reason:

15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

             God had a purpose for Pharaoh’s rise to power and that was so that His power and Name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.  This means that the central reason for God’s purpose in his dealings with Israel and Egypt are ultimately about God’s power and person as Creator and Redeemer.  God is utterly God-centered in his dealings and an aspect throughout Scripture that’s too often unnoticed or discarded.  One reason for this is our human tendencies to make much of ourselves and very little of God:

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

             I think this is the logical conclusion to ask such a question.  I can hear the philosopher (and rightly so), grappling with this issue for at stake is the justice of God.  So what does Paul think?  He poses the rhetorical question of the potters right to do whatever he pleases with the clay’s purpose.  He concludes that the potter has the right to choose the purpose for the clay vessel: either for honorable purposes or dishonorable purposes:

20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”   

             Fourth, but God is not unjust, for through His wrath justly poured on evil doers He demonstrates His righteousness.  And all have come under this just condemnation.  Recall that Paul hearkens back to Job in principle and that righteous man’s utterly silenced before God’s inquiry: “Where were you when I…?”  The fact is we creatures are out of line to question God’s actions as if we had the moral upper hand on the Holy One.  This attitude while understandable shows our pride of not trusting in God’s word of promise, questioning His goodness and justice within the salvation history framework.

Paul goes on to explain however that vessels of wrath (those not chosen) are necessary in order for vessels of mercy to know God’s glory in salvation.  Consider the following:

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 
26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’  There they shall be called sons of the living God.”  27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”

That’s what Paul seems to be arguing.  But then he concludes his thought with another question which goes back to Israel’s standing with God compared to the Gentiles—all of which are under condemnation (Chapters 1-3) and in need of redemption through Christ, the last Adam:

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Israel misunderstood the purpose of the Law of Moses, turned it into something foreign to God’s purposes and thus perished.  That is, law-keeping is impossible because sinful hearts need to be renewed.  The Law’s purpose was only to shine the light on our sinful state so that we might look to the 2nd Adam, the Messiah whose purpose was to save us through His own blood and thus renew our dead hearts to God.  The Law was never a list of “do’s and don’ts” in order to be acceptable before the Holy One.

Fifth, this faith of which Paul speaks is Abraham’s who believed in God’s word of promise evidenced by how he lived.  Paul’s purpose for writing Romans (1:5) of the obedience of faith props itself up again here.  This faith is trust in God’s word of future fulfillment that He alone will and can accomplish.  Thus, when we talk about salvation through election, it’s never unjust, because all are under God’s just wrath and none possess the remedy for rescue.

The fact is that election is all about God’s mercy demonstrated toward vessels of wrath so that the glory of God may be seen and known by vessels of mercy. This is severely humbling and troubling.  It’s humbling because there’s no boasting except in God’s works, never ours.  And it’s troubling because of how many do despise this plain truth, thus dishonoring the Creator and Redeemer to their everlasting damnation.

(SDG)

Summary of CHAPTER EIGHT: THE GOD WHO GRANTS NEW BIRTH [Pages 121-134]

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In this chapter Carson addresses the issue of new birth in light of the Bible’s story-line.  He first considers our human dilemma and the three things we people need.  They are; to be reconciled to God, to be morally transformed or else our rebellion will continue to perpetuate itself, and we also need the effects of sin somehow to be reversed.  These include not only our interrelationships but also death itself.  Otherwise, death just keeps on winning as the universe keeps on decaying, creatures continue to go through pain, sorrow and disappointment.

Carson notes that justification by faith alone remedies these three problems, but it’s by no means alone.  For, Jesus is the revelation of God himself—incarnate deity is He.  Thus, he can authoritatively speak to our plight—we are God’s enemies.  But on Calvary’s cross, Jesus rectifies the enmity for it was there that God’s justice and mercy kissed the earth and brought hope to our doom.

            This hope comes through new birth which produces inner transformation.  This is not complete until Christ finishes the work of sanctification in our lives through glorification.  Thus, we are continuously to be in the process of becoming increasingly more like the Son of God.  Here, our motives are of the utmost importance for outer transformation varies from person to person be it the rescued drug-addict or the straight-laced person seeming to be “squeaky clean.”

             Secondly, Carson explains what “new birth” or what “born-again” means in Jesus’ mind.   In our world, the term’s “new birth” or “born-again conjures up a car changing its name (e.g., from Datsun to Nissan) or a delegate changing from one political party to another (e.g., a Democrat becomes a Republican).

            But for Jesus these terms point to the impossibility of man to do a single thing to attain salvation which utterly crushes human pride.  And if this language of “new birth” is based on the decision of the one being born, it’s frankly bizarre.  It’s weird because in our usage when a person is “born” their volition is never in the equation.  Some other agent is always responsible for their existence. Moreover, to be born-again in Jesus’ view guarantees that one will see the kingdom of God.

Carson reminds us that what we really need are not new institutions but new men and women; what we need is not new laws but new lives; what we need is not new creeds but new creatures; what we need is not new power plays but new people.

Thirdly, Carson compares the difference in the flow of logic between Barna’s view and the Bible’s concerning new birth.  Concerning Barna’s position (this is a group dedicated to gathering statistical information about the role of Faith in America, known to possess the nations’ most comprehensive databases of spiritual indicators) Carson sees a radically man-centered approach, not a Biblical one.  For being born-again depends solely on ones profession of faith, saying a prayer or going to church.  But a mere profession or decision by an individual is not what’s required.  Instead, what’s required is a radically transformed life.

The Bible’s view however is radically God-centered and humbles our pride, for its’ the impossible which is required to be born again.  We must start over, we must become something we can’t do ourselves, because in ourselves it’s impossible and we know it or do we?  Regardless, nothing less than transformation must occur for assurance to be Biblically grounded.

             Fourthly, Carson peers into what the meaning of “born of water and the Spirit” according to (Jn. 3:5) is.  He affirms that it means to be born-again; it’s a parallel meaning, not two births, but one.  In fact the reason in John 3, Jesus could speak with such knowledge and authority about new birth is because the revelation was divine; that is, it was God the Son speaking of what only God knows.  God the son is the revelation and this is stunning.  He comes from heaven and hence he speaks of what he knows.  His identity grounds his authority to speak and to know.

Fifthly, Carson rightly challenges us that to eventually understand Christianity we are going to have to come to terms with the claims it makes.  This starts what we will do with Jesus.  If you accept what he says then you must bow to him, but if we dismiss his claims we deny his very identity which is not good.  One correlation to Christ’s identity is the connection between the account of new birth in John 3 and the Old Testament account of the bronze serpent in (Numbers 21:6-9)

The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

The problem of the serpents was death at the door and the remedy was looking at what was killing them—snakes—which were on the pole (this prefigured the cross) and by doing so would save the people.  Bizarre as it may seem, looking at the bronze serpent on the pole was God’s way of rescue, and that was a type of the cross of Christ.  That is, in order for people to be delivered from death they must put their trust in the provision of Christ’s cross. But if that provision is rejected, only death awaits.  Carson asks, “Have you been born-again?” At times I’ve doubted my conversion based on struggles with sin, actually feeling as if God did not care for me.  But then again, I’ve seen my affections turn God-ward increasingly as the years of struggle and sin persist.  My struggle sounds like the one described by the apostle Paul in Romans 7.

Reflections From ROMANS 8:20-39 “COMPARING PRESENT SUFFERINGS WITH FUTURE GLORY IS INCOMPARABLE”

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Paul here seems to springboard from (v.18) to the end of the chapter concerning our suffering.  As God’s children, our suffering entails fighting the remaining sin but that again does not disqualify us as children because the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we indeed are God’s children:

14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” 

             Now, Paul argues that the sufferings we presently experience are not comparable to the glory in the future to be revealed in us: 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  He then goes on to explain the multifaceted aspects of this glory which is first a creation that’s set right again (Vv.19-25).  Secondly, this glory will be brought about by the Spirit’s intercession for us and the creation (Vv.26-30).  And finally, no one or thing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Vv.31-39).  Several observations are of note.

First, present sufferings are bearable in light of the hope we presently possessOne ploy demonic spirits use to paralyze believers is to veil this future glory with hardships and often what results is despair.  Paul is saying to the believer, “Don’t despair, because the eternal glory to be revealed is worth the pain you are momentarily suffering”.  Many people abandon their pursuit of God because of pain and suffering.  There’s a breaking point where the creature deems God not worthy to be trusted.   Yet, true believers are to press through and trust God in hope.

Biblically, the term “hope” is not wishful thinking but rather it’s a confident expectation in God’s word of promise.  Consider what Paul says:

 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”   

I take this to mean that when God gave over Adam and Eve for the lesser glory of the creation over against that of the Creator, the result of this sin was the entire damaging of the created order.  This brought a slavery to futility (i.e., things were no longer in harmony with their intended design and the Designer) but were and remain at war with Him.

Secondly, God had a plan to rectify the chaos in hope.   Even though this war obtains, God gave over to sin Adam and Eve in hope.  That is, He had a plan to restore the catastrophic results of sin caused by His children’s rebellion and is the proof the rest of creation will once again come into order.  The chaos will be dealt with as Paul continues:

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

By “groans” I take Paul to be saying that the creation also suffers because of sin and the pain is likened to “child birth”.  I understand this to mean that the pain will be worth the wait because of the life which awaits us.  Now when Paul says, “we await our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”, he seems to indicate that that already as children of God, a future word of promise is yet to be fulfilled.  Moreover, this includes resurrected bodies not subject to death or corruption or futility as the rest of creation has experienced.

Third, Paul accentuates how this hope will be realized.  The apostle now transitions from the previous state of affairs to inform us how all this hope will be realized through the Spirit’s intercession which is always in line with God’s will:

26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  

We have divine help from beginning to end, for the Spirit prays for us because we lack the requisite knowledge on how to properly pray and thus explains God’s purpose in salvation for His present and future children (Vv.28-30).

Why can we trust in future glorification?  The reason is because Christ’s past mortification of death on the cross and resurrection to new life has been won by the Master (Vv.31-36).  Paul says that regardless of life’s circumstances (and they can sometimes be unbearable), because of Christ’s love for us, we are thus super conquerors (Vv.37-39).

Those who are in Christ are no longer under the sentence of death, yet suffering is real and painful.  Nevertheless, suffering is momentary and it’s pain can’t compare to the glory that awaits believers and the creation, where we anticipate our resurrected bodies and the creation is set right.  Thus, we can bank on God’s word of promise of “hope” because forever his word is settled in heaven.  Let God be true and every man a liar—that contradicts Him! (SDG)

Summary From CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GOD WHO BECAME A HUMAN BEING [Pages 101-119]

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Carson begins this chapter by first pointing out that before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah promised a new covenant.  What this promise implicitly says about the old (Mosaic) covenant is that in some sense, it is becoming obsolete (Jer. 31:31-34):

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Secondly, Carson explains how in Jesus God became human.  For starters, “Jesus’” name means “Yahweh saves.”  This is the covenant name of God given to Moses at Sinai.  The importance of this name in Mathew’s gospel is that it sets forth the entire theme of the book; namely that Yahweh has come to save his people from their sins (in Christ).

He then explains the doctrine of the Trinity to mean that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God.  Not three Gods, only one.  One way of explaining this, is that the Word shares one substance with the Father, but is distinguishable from Him.  That is, there are three distinct persons within the Godhead who are equally the One God, co-existing, co-equal, and co-eternal.

In John’s prologue (John 1:1-18) it’s clear that the “Word” is simultaneously God’s own peer and God’s own self?  In verse 1 this is emphatic: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  God reveals, himself to the prophets through his word; God creates through the spoken word in (Gen.1; Ps.33:6); God transforms his people through the word (Ps. 107:20), and Jesus is God’s self-revelation, self-expression; God’s own agent in creation; and he comes to save and transform his people.

Thirdly, Carson explains what the incarnation means.  It means that the Word becomes a human being (i.e., the infleshing). God becomes something that previously before the incarnation, he was not.  What John does not say is that the Word merely clothed himself in animal humanity, pretended to be human, coexisted with a man called Jesus, nor is all of God exhausted in Jesus.  But John does say that the Word (God’s own peer) became a human being.  Jesus is the “God/Man.  God in his divinity cannot change, but in Christ’s humanity there’s a distinct addition: a human nature.  This is mind baffling.

Fourthly, Carson makes the connection between the Old Testament Tabernacle and New Testament incarnation.  He does this by thematically connecting John 1:14-18 on the one hand and Exodus 32-34 on the other hand.  He explains that the Tabernacle and Temple, point to the fact that Jesus is the ultimate meeting place between a holy God and rebellious sinners.  He is said to have “tabernacled among us”.  This is where the meeting place of peace with God can be found in Jesus Christ.

Glory is what Moses wanted to see of God on Sinai, but when Jesus tabernacled among us the wonder of his glory, God’s glory, is seen in the miracles and ultimately on Calvary’s tortuous bloody cross.   Grace and Truth (Love and Faithfulness) God reveals himself not only as the One who punishes evil doers but is also kind and forgiving.  Full of grace and truth is that which brought him to the cross to pay for our sins.  Here is where justice and love kiss!

Grace and Law means that we have received grace in place of grace already given.  The gracious gift of the Law was superseded by the ultimate revelatory expression of God in the 2nd person of the Triune God who through his sacrificial death on Calvary’s bloody cross purchased the redemption price required for wrath doomed sinners to be rescued and thus adopted into God’s family.  It’s found in the new covenant, which replaces the old covenant.

Seeing God can only be accomplished through seeing Jesus. We cannot look directly on God, according to John 1:18.  What is at present, the closest we can come?  Presently, we can see the character, holiness, wrath, forgiveness and glory of God in Jesus.  He is the ultimate revelation of God the Father—he is the incarnate son of God.

And as such, Jesus most spectacularly showed that he is full of grace and truth on the cross.  Both God’s justice and love are fully expressed there.  This field will forever be marveled on by the redeemed age without end.

Reflections From ROMANS 6:1-23 “JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH RESULTS IN SANCTIFICATION BECAUSE BELIEVERS ARE SLAVES TO GOD”

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            Whose slave are you?  In the last chapter Paul argued that the believers’ justification is truly certain because God acted in Christ before we came to be.  The last Adams’ obedience (Christ Jesus) secures our standing before God because it’s the gift of life which is unlike the first Adams’ rebellion which secured our death.  But now that grace has come in Christ, Paul asks a question:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”  (Vv.1-2)

             Certainly Paul encountered religious Jews who argued that if one is justified by faith through grace then people can go on sinning; living the same rebellious life as before their conversion.  That is, “since these people are eternally secure in Christ in their salvation, who cares how they live!”  But such a position completely misses the point.  The reason is because when believers belong to Christ, his death and resurrection are applied to them so that as Christ presently lives a new resurrected life, we too might walk in that life (Vv.3-4).  Paul continues:

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.(Vv.5-7)

                It seems Paul is pointing to our mystical spiritual union with Christ such that in his crucifixion we actually died to sin and in His resurrection we actually have come to eternal life.  Spiritual unions in the Bible, among other things, concern sexual intercourse between two people whether married or not.  As the Bride of Christ, this union is real not imagined, it’s spiritual not physical.

The “old-self” is the pre-regeneration self that was dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1-4) which has been killed so that we believers would no longer be slaves to sin.  Thus, the purpose of Christ’s crucifixion in which believers are identified, was to release them from the chains of sin.  Thus to think that sin increases and thus makes grace more glorious is to totally miss the point (V.1), for the fruit produced by Christ in believers is a new life.

Paul resumes with his argument pointing to Christ’s victory over the grave which signifies that death is no longer master over Him and He says a profound truth here:

10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

             Christ is the example believers are to follow here.  They are to consider themselves as dead to sin, that is, they are to live in the reality that sin is no longer their master, God is, for Christ has vanquished the grave.  Here, Paul is exhorting and encouraging believers to live in the reality of new birth which brings new life.  And where new life exists, the “old-self” which was already killed is to be rebelled against.  This metaphor points to the reality of what being in Christ produces.  Too often we listen to “old tapes” believing lies about ourselves.  Make no mistake about it believer: you are no longer a slave to sin.  So don’t obey its’ commands.

Paul is not denying that sin remains and must be battled, but he’s exhorting believers not to be enslaved to sin which Christ conquered, instead:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

The righteous can and do sin, but not because they are under its’ mastery (Christ fixed that problem), but because the battle(s) remain to be fought.  They however must be fought from the truth that as freed men and women from sin our enemy is relentless and thus we must also be unyielding in battle.  Moreover, because believers are under grace, not under the Law (which only increased sin, never was it to produce new birth) this means we have a new master—Christ the Lord of Life.  Believer, how much more vibrant would our lives and witness be if we constantly lived in light of this truth.

Paul has thus answered the first objection which was based on the faulty premise that grace would produce increasing sin in believers.  No!  Grace actually produces new birth, new life and a new master which says, “You shall be holy for I am holy”.  This new life has been secured by Christs’ work of redemption and having said that; Paul does not deny that sin has vanished.  For when believers sin and repent grace does shine.  What Paul wants to accentuate however is that grace does not produce a sinful lifestyle, but one of sanctification.  Paul now asks a second question connected to the first one:

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” 

Here he continues explaining that whoever is obeyed (sin or righteousness) to that one we are slaves.  The former produces death, the latter generates life (V-16).  But as believers once obeyed sin and were thus slaves to death, now in Christ after new birth, they have become slaves of righteousness resulting in sanctification (Vv.17-21).  One master produces death, the other master produces life.  Note that everyone, according to Paul, is serving something other than themselves.  He continues:

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

             Paul is concluding with what brings benefit and what brings destruction.  Sin while pleasurable for a time eventually yields death, but grace and new birth yield a life of grace and sanctification toward God which produces life.  Sin’s pay-off is death; graces’ pay-off is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That is, if the Law (as described by Paul) is in what we trust to be right with God, then our end is death.  But if we trust as Abraham did in the free gift of God’s word of promise fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, then life is our end.  This smashes human pride on the one hand but on the other hand it calls for believers to walk humbly before our gracious God and the observant world.  (SDG)        

WHAT’S SO “GOOD” ABOUT “GOOD FRIDAY?”

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What’s so good about Good Friday?  This day has been celebrated by Christians for the last two thousand years and too often is not understood.  At the core, the question answers what Jesus came to accomplishThe short answer is that he came to demonstrate both God’s justice and love through the cross. Why celebrate the grueling horrific death of an innocent man?  Not only is this not in vogue, but detested by our age that is passing away.  And yet for all the ages, it is the greatest event of all.

So why is this good?  Because God’s wrath has been satisfied, and hopelessly lost sinners through Gods’ grace and kindness have the opportunity to enter the family of God through Jesus Christ’s, life, death, resurrection, and ascension (see my Reflections from Romans:1-5 for more in depth Biblical explication).

In Christian theology the topic of the cross is under the heading of the Atonement.  In what follows, I’m going to explain what the atonement is, what its cause was, why it was needed, and what its nature is.

 WHAT IS THE ATONEMENT ALL ABOUT?

In Christian theology, that which surrounds the attempt to understand the cross is what’s called the atonement a term that means to “cover over’.  It comes from the basic idea that man is a sinner in need of a Savior, a redeemer from God’s holy wrath.  That is, in order for sinful man (who is hell bound) to be in relationship with a holy God, a sacrifice must be made.

This is seen in Genesis when after disobeying God, He covered Adam and Eve with animal skins (requiring the life of an innocent “animal” to make relationship possible).  It’s extensively demonstrated in the Old Testament sacrificial system (Lev.1:14; 4:20; 7:7; 16).  These sacrifices were a type pointing to Jesus Christ according to the writer of Hebrews: (Heb. 9:22-26; 10:4-10).

22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me; 
In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasureThen I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’”  After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Paul says that, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor.5:19), which he accomplished through Jesus’ death on the cross (Rom.5:10).  This reconciliation was and is many sided which involves Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Having said that, central to the doctrine of salvation in the New Testament is the cross.  As Christian Theologian Leon Morris put it:

“This [the cross] is distinctive of Christianity.  Other religions have their martyrs, but the death of Jesus was not that of a martyr.  It was that of a Savior.  His death saves men from their sins.  Christ took their place and died their death 2 Cor.5:21).” [1]

 As the following texts attest:

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mk.10:45)

 21 He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor.5:21)

 This problem is denied by Monists as an illusion, it’s considered superstition by Atheist’s, and is seen as blasphemous by Muslims.  But historic Christianity understands this to be the monumental event in of all history.  So, what was the cause of the atonement?

THE CAUSE OF THE ATONEMENT

For our purposes, we will define the atonement as: the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.[2]  God’s Love is no small feat and the apostle John captures its depth too often falling on deaf ears.  Both God’s love and justice are the cause for the atonement:

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”   (Jn.3:16)

God is love and here we see that His love moved Him to do the unthinkable—offering His innocent Son so that we might me His friends.  Such a view does not seem to be a man centered concoction of myth but a sever mercy of the transcendent Creator.  Not only was it God’s love that caused this atonement to be realized but also His justice.

Paul the apostle goes to great lengths in Romans to explain our need and God’s remedy.  That is, God’s Justice had to be met out:

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.(Rom.3:21-26)

Freedom is never free.  Someone has to pay for it.  The penalty due for our sins Christ paid; otherwise God could not have accepted us into fellowship with Himself.  The term propitiation (NASB) speaks of a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath so that God becomes favorably disposed toward us.[3]  Thus, both God’s love and justice were satisfied by Christ alone.  This is why Jesus could say with absolute authority, “I am the way the truth and the life, no comes to the Father but by me”.  So what of the need for the atonement?

WHY WAS THE ATONEMENT NEEDED?

When we speak of the need of the atonement, we must clarify that God did not need to save us, as though he needed anything from us seeing that He is the self-existent One.  Recall that He did not spare the angels, but cast them into hell (2 Pet.2:4).

Yet, in God’s economy, it was not only impossible for Christ not to die on the cross (Garden of Gethsemane Mt. 26:39), “…My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as You will,” but it was also necessary for the Messiah to die for the sins of his people as Luke declares:

25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Lk.24:25-27)

 This is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block for the Jews, but to those who are called, Christ is both the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor.1).  This atonement was also necessary for Jesus to be made like us in every way (Heb. 2:17-18), “…He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. V-18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted”.  He had to atone for those He’d save and by doing so is worthy to represent them before the throne of God as a faithful high priest.

The necessity for Christ’s sacrifice is also because animal blood could never achieve what the blood of God’s unique Son did, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb.10: 4). Again the writer of Hebrews hammers this home:

23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.(Heb.9:23-26)

God’s love and justice caused the atonement, our need for forgiveness and a faithful high priest demanded the need of the atonement.  What of the nature of this atonement?

THE NATURE OF THE ATONEMENT

The nature of the atonement appears to be based on Christ’s obedience and suffering.  Christ had to be obedient for us because we could not.  That is, Jesus had to obey the whole Law on our behalf so that the positive merits of his obedience would be counted for us (Rom.5:19) “For as through one mans disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”  What Adam ruined, Jesus came to restore.

Christ’s suffering for us was also necessary to pay the penalty for our sins. We can see this with; his pain on the cross, his being abandoned, and his bearing the wrath of God.  A man of sorrows depicts the Master.

Jesus’ Whole life was filled with suffering.  Jesus’ suffering involved the entirety of his being: his body and his soul.  Consider his temptation in the wilderness which was tremendous suffering (Mt.4:1-11; Mk.1:13).  When the text says that Jesus was being tempted, in the language of the New Testament it means that he was continually being tempted throughout the forty days in the wilderness.[4]

When he was growing up Jesus went through the process of learning to obey and this involved suffering (Heb.5:8) “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things He suffered”.  Furthermore, remember that he endured great opposition from the Jewish leaders (Heb.12:3-4), and was acquainted with griefSpeaking of him Isaiah says: (Is.53:3) “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

The pinnacle of such pain and suffering occurred on the cross of Calvary.  Toward the end of his earthly life, Jesus sufferings intensified and climaxed on the cross for it was there that he must pay for the penalty of our sins.  In (Mt.26:38) while undergoing the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, he says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”.  This pain on the cross he was about to endure was fourfold.

It was a physical pain and deathThe means of death was through crucifixion (Mk.15:24).  Remember “The Passion” movie and imagine it superlatively worse.  Then there was the pain of bearing sin.  Jesus not only endured physical pain, but also psychological pain by bearing the guilt for our sin as Isaiah describes:

6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his won way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isa.53:6, 12)

This and other passages demonstrate that it was God the Father who put our sins on Christ.  Then there’s the pain of abandonment.  Jesus was abandoned by the disciples and by the Father. The disciples were his closest friends who in the Garden of Gethsemane could bring him no comfort as he was in agonizing sorrow (Mk.14:34).   When Jesus was arrested the disciples fled (Mt.26:56). 

Jesus nonetheless loved them to the end (Jn.13:1). We all experience rejection to one degree or another, but in Jesus’ darkest hour his friends were absent.  The worst pain of all was when the Father abandoned him for it deprived him of the sweet fellowship he had throughout his life with the Father.  Finally, it was the pain of God’s wrath unleashed on him that crushed the Savior (Mt.27:46).  The Son became the object of God’s wrath!  But that was not the end.  For death could not keep God’s holy one from life.

What’s so good about Good Friday?  God’s love and justice are commemorated.  That is, in the work of Christ Jesus, God’s enemies have the opportunity to become His friends.  There’s only one way, and that way has been provided by an amazing Creator who day and night stretches out his kindness to rebellious creatures whose doom is a breathe away but for His son’s kindness expressed in “it is finished!”.  Consider the following text in light of your life and ask yourself friend if you are His enemy or friend:

Isaiah 53:11-12

11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,

He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

[1] Leon Morris, Atonement, EDT, pg.97.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg.568.  Also, we could speak of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, but for our purposes we will concentrate on his life and death.

[3] Ibid., p.568.

[4] Ibid., p.571-572.

Reflection From ROMANS 5:6-21: “JUSTIFICATION IS ASSURRED THROUGH CHRIST—EVEN AS ADAM’S REBELLION WROUGHT DEATH”

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            Paul seems to want to assure the Roman believers that their justification is certain because God’s work of redemption occurred at the right time:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

Hardships might cause believers to doubt God’s goodness toward them (Vv.1-5), even their actual standing with God as judge.  But Paul argues that if while we were God’s enemies He showed His loved to us through Christ’s death, now, much more as His friends we must be confident that being justified now by Christ’s blood, God’s wrath is not ever again to be on us.

We are a lot of redeemed, reconciled sinners by the Savior (Vv.10-11).  Our state because of Adam’s rebellion assuredly resulted in death (Vv.12-14), but the free gift of God is not like the transgression.  This is because the transgression resulted in death and wrath, whereas God’s free gift brought life and mercy.

11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.  12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

The two Adams acted, the first disobeyed and thus death reigned, the second obeyed and thus life in Christ reigns.  The former brought condemnation to all men, the latter wrought justification for many (Vv.15-19)

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.  18  So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Finally, the Law came to increase transgression, but in this increase, grace all the more abounded the purpose of which is that even as death reigned because of transgression, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Christ (Vv.20-21).  Here Paul brings attention to the power of grace and righteousness over sin and death.  He uses the phrase, “much more” to contrast and heighten God’s favor and instill confidence in the work of Christ over against Adam’s rebellion.

Justification can be banked on more than death which came through the creature Adam because God’s grace and gift of righteousness came through God the Son, whose life would be brought to bear on those who love Him, who love God the Father.  That’s amazing grace!  (SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 5:1-5: “JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS”

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            After arguing for how one is justified by faith alone apart from the works of the Law—which include circumcision—in chapters (3:21-4:25), Paul now shows the kind of life that’s produced in a justified soul:

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Justification by faith entails trust in God’s word of promise to Abraham concerning the coming seed (Christ Jesus), which would make him a father of many nations.  This word of promise is fulfilled in Christ’s work of redemption.  Thus, the one trusting (faith) God’s promise fulfilled in Christ is legally made right (justified) before the court of heaven.  Several observations can be noted.

First, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the ultimate key, not our faith but our Savior.  That is, without Christ’s high priestly office, we have no hope.  The writer of Hebrews accentuates this by saying that:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb.4:14-16)

 That is, we come boldly to the throne of grace through Christ alone.  Without Jesus, there is no hope, there’s no access to God—forever.  But for those who have been justified by faith, access is always granted.

Second, because we’ve been justified by faith, we not only have peace with God, but we also have our introduction into this grace by faith in which we stand.  That is, grace is our foundation, never Law.  Once we were God’s enemies (Rom.1:18-20), but now we are His friends.

Third, we exult in the glory of God.  This is a peculiar phrase.  What is it about God’s glory that causes us to exult in hope?  I think this refers to the gospel itself which Paul is eager to preach.  Because of rebellion, wrath has been poured out, because of Christ’s obedience, wrath has been satisfied.  Because of the lie, the truth is suppressed and God’s wrath is revealed.  Because of Christ, both Jew and Gentile have access and are justified by faith.  God loves to justify rebels which He demonstrated by sending Christ to the cross!

To exult is depicted in the joy and praise fans express in crescendo fashion when their home team scores a goal (soccer or futbol).  They leap for joy!  In a very similar way, believers in Christ joyfully rejoice in the hope of God’s glory which is revealed in the gospel.  Paul now brings a twist to this exultation:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

             Paul reveals a kingdom truth the unregenerate can’t grasp: that we as those who have peace with God can leap for joy in our tribulations.  Not because of it, but because of the fruit tribulation produces in the believer.  There’s a cluster of fruit, or a string of pearls tribulation seems to produce in those who love God.

First, tribulation produces perseverance.  No pain no gain is usually a good maxim.  The goal of perseverance is to finish well the race set before us.  This means that we finish definitely!  In this race the course presents perilous scenarios.  At times these make us feel like we’re about to be swallowed up.  But it won’t because secondly, perseverance produces proven character.  That is, our souls demonstrate a Godward resolve that’s produced in the grind of the race we will finish.  That’s because thirdly, proven character produces hope.  Hope in what?  In God’s word of promise yet to be fulfilled even as Abraham demonstrated.  The reason hope does not disappoint is because we’re born-again.  God’s Spirit indwells the believer.

Unlike what a Law-keeping Jew might think (that justification by faith will embolden people to sin later), true saving faith produces the life of God’s kingdom where trust in His word of promise marks the believer (Hope).  Thus, the life of one at peace with God issues forth a holiness of life which emulates Christ Jesus.  It’s a life which continuously finds strength and joy in the God who is there, in the One who rescued us while we were clueless of our doom.  (SDG)

Summary’s of The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story” By D.A. Carson

51-PJJ4Wo6L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_            Driving home from work on the 405 freeway can be a vexing experience especially if you despise traffic like I do.  A remedy I find is listening to classic rock stations that play my favorites and when I’m done with that I’ll “station surf”.  This brought me to an interview where apologist and public speaker Frank Turek was answering questions about his new book, “Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case”, by the host Michael Sontag.

Sontag asked Turek to speak to the Christian that fears not having answers to questions nonbelievers may ask them—(this is not verbatim but the gist as I recall is…)—“Believers need to study and learn apologetics…life’s hard, marriage is hard, work is hard, raising children is hard, so why would learning about the apologetic issues be any different?  While we can simplify the concepts and core issues, one must do the hard work of studying”.   I almost fully agree.

That is, Christians do need to give priority to the life of the mind as part of loving God and neighbor.  But (and I don’t think Turek would disagree from what I did hear, he just did not mention it when I was listening to the show), knowing the issues, the philosophical arguments and having strategies to counter false arguments is limited in scope and power.  Let me explain.

When I was working on my master’s degree in apologetics at Biola University, I noticed many students (from all walks and ages) were biblically illiterate.  They knew how to give arguments for God’s existence but not for Christ’s atonement.

My response to Sontag’s question would be, “If believers want to obey God’s command in (1 Pet.3:15; Jude 3; Mt.28:18-20) then they must understand the Big ideas of the little Book—Bible, and the Big ideas of the Big Book—Creation.  That is, Christians need to understand the big ideas of creation, fall, redemption and consummation and be able to understand the philosophical thought which has shaped our civilization.  Both are important, but if the former is not in place, I don’t see how we can faithfully be salt and light as Christ’s ambassadors.  So while I’m all for thinking well and knowing the issues, we fail the Master as ambassadors for Christ when we are weak in our Biblical knowledge.

This leads me to explain why I chose Carson’s book, “The God Who is There”.  Of the many stalwarts in thinking Biblically and critically I have had, D.A. Carson is at the top of the list.  His biblical, theological, philosophical and practical acumen is rife in anything he writes.  This book in particular is an amazing example of writing a “salvation history” tome in terms a high school student can grasp without forfeiting theological rigor.  This book is the fourth I want to commend for Christians who are serious about the life of the mind and the heart.

OS Guinness’s Fools Talk helps the reader understand from a biblical venue how to engage in speech those who are indifferent or hostile to the faith.  Allister McGrath’s Mere Apologetics gives the reader insight into the big apologetic issues and challenges believers to make the responses their own, not someone else’s.  Lastly, James Sire’s The Universe Next Door helps the reader understand how to think in worldviews as a means to engage the culture.  Now, D.A. Carson is about to take us through the big ideas of the Bible.  May you truly be strengthened in the faith, or may you become clearer as a searcher of what true life really is.

 CHAPTER ONE:  THE GOD WHO MADE EVERYTHING (Pgs.11-26)

Carson begins this chapter by pointing out that the Bible is the foundation documents of Christianity, made up of 66 books, written over a span of 1500 years.  These books vary in length, are mostly written in Hebrew, some Aramaic, and in Greek. These documents have very different genres.  Some are written in letters, others poetry, laments, genealogies, oracles from God, and some are apocalyptic in nature.   This diverse nature makes the Bible more accessible in certain places to 21st century people than in others because of its’ context, language and customs.

As the foundation documents of Christendom, believers insist that here is where God has disclosed Himself.  Thus, Carson’s goal for the reader is to allow the Bible to sketch out what Christianity says, what it means, and what it looks like.  Lamentably, writes Carson, too often Christians have abandoned these foundation documents and have betrayed their heritage.  He points out that this Bible actually discloses the “God Who is There” and argues that it’s broken down into chapters and verses.

Genesis: the first Book.  Carson considers how the book of Genesis should be approached.  He says that in light of 20th century thought it’s assumed that Science and the opening chapters of Genesis are incompatible.  Nevertheless, the following obtains.

First, there’s more ambiguity in the interpretation of these opening chapters than some Christians recognize.

Some are convinced that when read responsibly, these chapters reveal that the world is no more than four thousand years old (Young Earth Advocates) and that the days are literally twenty four hours in Genesis not symbolic.  Others hold that these chapters reveal and support that the world is vastly old (Old Earth Advocates) and that each day represents an age, rather than a literal twenty four hour day.  Still others insert a big gap between verse one and verse two.

Again, some see this as a literary device where the creation week is symbol laden, while others devote their energies to viewing it as one of many creation accounts in the world (e.g., Enuma Elish).

Carson rightly points out that Genesis is a mixed genre of history and symbolism.  There’s some historical details offered which take place in space and time, even though they were written after the actual events.  Then there’s the symbolism which is often difficult to distinguish between the symbolic and the actual.

Second, there’s more ambiguity in the claims of science than some Scientists recognize.  Carson unfolds how the New Atheisms’ resources are based on philosophical materialism which holds that whatever exists is confined only to matter, space and time.  This means that anything outside that box is immediately disregarded, ridiculed, and seen as superstitious which moderns can’t tolerate!         Yet, there are many top notch scientists, mathematicians and philosophers who reject the foundation of naturalism.  Many of these scholars are Christians (certainly not all) which tend to be Math and Science teachers, rather than Psychology or English teachers.  The point being, these instructors use logic and reason to practice their disciplines, hence they’re not superstitiously bent.

Recent books written by scientists such as; Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Uncommon Descent, Darwin’s Black Box, etc., point out core problems the Darwinian evolutionary model of reality faces in light of the latest science and philosophy and can’t just be brushed off as “superstition”.  Then there’s Big Bang cosmology that fits better in a theistic view of origins than a naturalistic paradigm.  Carson rightly notes that to say matter, “came out of nothing” (as naturalist’s hold) is an absurdity because we know that “some-thing” can’t come from “no-thing”.

Then there’s the noteworthy Intelligent Design Hypothesis which offers an alternative scientific theory to naturalism, and discusses an organism’s irreducible complexity which statistically makes chance mutation virtually an impossible hypothesis for a Darwinian naturalistic approach to intellectually hold sway.

Third, Carson notes the contribution Francis Schaeffer offers for understanding the opening chapters of Genesis.  Schaeffer argued that to make sense out of the Bible, the Genesis account must minimally be saying certain things.

First, the Genesis account assumes God’s existence rather than arguing for it.  This entails that He’s the measure of all things because of His self-existent.  But if humans are the measure of all things, than we determine what is and what is not.  And as we relate to God, we are then positioned to become His judges.  Yet, Genesis reveals that God is not an object that we evaluate, but the Creator who we are to worship.

Second, the Genesis account reveals to us that God is a talking/communicating being.  This means that any idea we have of God, can only result from His self-disclosure.  What we know about Him must therefore come from God.  This means that He’s not an abstract unmoved mover, or a mystical experience, but the Creator who chose to disclose Himself in language that human beings can understand.  And the foundational message the Bible reveals to us is that God is good, despite all the evil the world contains.

Fourth, the Genesis account reveals there’s a Creator and creature distinction.  This means that God is independent of everything and everything else is dependent on God for its existence because unlike the Creator, everything else has had a beginning.

Fifth, the Genesis account reveals that human beings—and they alone are made in the image of God.  This does not mean that we don’t share some characteristics with other creatures (we do and know this from genetics).  For example, a percentage of our genes we also share with the chimp/piglet, because we both die and return to the dust.  But, unlike animals, only humans reflect God in speech, knowledge, creativity, capacity to work (e.g., we tend gardens, buffalo do not), and to rule as faithful vice regents who are to properly steward God’s resources.

Sixth, the Genesis account reveals that human beings image God as male and female.  Here differences and sameness are emphasized.  Through sexual union families procreate, two individuals become one (we’re not just animals just doing it), thus woman are not chattel to be owned, but are equal image bearers to be cherished.

Seventh, the Genesis account reveals that human innocence was lost. That is, our first parents nakedness points to the shame rebellion wrought when God’s holy command was not trusted.  This is seen in chapter three, where The Fall of man is recorded.  It’s this backdrop that explains the New Testament meaning of a New Creation.  While Adam is the progenitor of the human race, Jesus is called the ‘Second Adam” of a new human race revealed in the Gospel.

Eighth, the Genesis account reveals the difference between monotheism and polytheism.  Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God, whereas polytheism is the belief in many gods.  The god’s of the Nations’ only have authority over certain domains—the highest pleasure here is Hedonism. But the God of the Bible is ruler over everything—where the highest pleasure is God Himself.

Ninth, the Genesis account reveals that human beings alone are morally responsible and accountable.  The reason God should be obeyed is because He made us, designed us, owns us and thus is owed everything.  When we image bearers direct our lives contrary to God’s design, we don’t optimally exist.  Our contrariness reveals a false belief that God is a bully rather than our maker to whom we owe everything.