Philip | Andrew | Meade

Vox Scriptura Vox Dei

Category: Theology (page 1 of 2)

Thank God The New Covenant Is New

On May 9, 2018, an article was placed on The Christian Post entitled, “Christians Must ‘Unhitch’ Old Testament From Their Faith, Says Andy Stanley.” The article discusses a recent sermon where Andy Stanley encourages his people to “unhitch” from the Old Testament since it is not the “go-to source regarding behavior in the church.” He says that “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.” Stanley goes on to say:

“Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures….The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did.”

Not long after these comments were published online, evangelicals responded with a swift rebuke. A few examples…

“What an absolute theological trainwreck. ” – @wesleyhill

“If Jesus did not “unhitch” himself from the Old Testament, neither should we. Period.” – @andrewtwalk

“This should sound as strange to us as it would to the apostles, who constantly preached Christ from the Jewish Scriptures.”  -@jaredcwilson

Even Rachel Held Evans chimed in, “Lest you think I only pick on the Reformed guys, I agree that Andy Stanley got this one very wrong” -@rachelheldevans

David Prince offered a lengthier response.

I agree with these concerns. The idea of “unhitching” or teaching the irrelevance of the Old Testament for the Church is a false teaching. Without the categories, patterns, covenants, and kingdom development of the OT, the arrival of the Messiah would make no sense. In this way, the NT is uniquely dependant on the OT for its clarity and purpose. My favorite preacher Alistair Begg says it perfectly: “We cannot really understand Christ without the Old Testament, and we can’t understand the Old Testament without Christ.” That sentiment echoes my position, which necessarily means we cannot “unhitch” the Old from the New.

Even more insidious is the idea that Stanley’s comments were designed and delivered in such a way as to separate himself and his teaching from the doctrines of God’s wrath and justice. In this way, Stanley’s comments would land well with those who believe the God of the Old Testament could never be the God of the New Testament. I do not know if Stanley desires such a thing, but Kevin DeYoung noted the historical similarity to Marcion’s heresy of the 2nd century.

Although these clear affirmations of disagreement with Stanley’s comments are important, more needs to be said. In rightly pushing back against this teaching, I wonder if enough is being said and clarified concerning the glorious good news that the New is, in fact, better than the Old. What we do not have in the covenants is a means of relating to God that is different but equal. Praise be to our Lord, New Covenant Christians do not approach a structural temple and perform daily animal sacrifices and look to a human high priest for intercession. All of these have been fulfilled in the true and better temple, the true and better sacrifice, and the true and better priest. Thus, the New Covenant is better in every way. (Hebrews 8:6).

But the key word is “fulfilled.” Jesus did not break from the OT, rather he fulfilled the OT. As John Piper has said, “…all the precious history and forms and structures and offices in the Old Testament aren’t merely thrown away. They are consummated. They are filled up in Jesus.”

I’ll use the Ten Commandments as an example. Should Christians obey the Ten Commandments? Andy Stanley said he was tempted to put up a slide saying, “Thou shall not obey the Ten Commandments.” That would, of course, fit in well with his language of the NT being “unhitched” from the OT. So, is he right? Should we stop obeying the Ten Commandments?

No, we should not stop obeying the Ten Commandments. But, the reason we obey them is important and germane to this discussion. We do not obey the Ten Commandments because they are binding on us as part of the Mosaic Law. We obey them because they are affirmed in the NT as part of the “Law of Christ” (1st Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:2).

We must emphatically teach that the law of the Old Covenant is dead to New Covenant Christians. A few examples:

“…you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)

“by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two…” (Ephesians 2:15)

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:21)

“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15)

In just a few verses I listed of many in Scripture, we are taught that we have been released from the Old Covenant law and it is dead to us, abolished, and powerless.

Now, combine this with the teaching of Jesus. Here’s one example – “He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.” (Luke 5:36-37).

Making commentary on this passage, R. Kent Hughes says, “Judaism, as good as it was, had become an old, worn-out garment. It could not be patched with a few things taken from Christ’s gospel…..The gospel of the New Covenant is simply too dynamic for the Old Covenant structures.”

I could make an inexhaustible list of conservative evangelical leaders, pastors, and scholars who have emphatically and correctly taught the superiority of the New Covenant and the inability of the Old Covenant to do what only Jesus can do. Tim Keller has become famous for repeatedly emphasizing how Jesus is the “true and better” everything.

And then there is the book of Hebrews. Having recently preached through this jaw-dropping book, I came away even more in awe of what God has done through Jesus Christ that the law could never accomplish. We are now drawn near to God through the blood of the New Covenant.

None of this is an excuse for Stanley’s comments. The only way we can understand the superiority of Christ is by its link with the Old Covenant. They cannot and must not be separated. But the New is better than the Old. And Christians, especially new believers, need clarity on that point. We must emphatically teach the greater and better Christ while remaining faithful to our commitment to the entire counsel of Scripture.

Is There A Second Baptism In The Holy Spirit? What About Acts 8?

Should Christians pursue a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit after their initial salvation experience in Christ? Many churches teach that a “second blessing” after salvation signifies the greatest honor for a Christian, and is usually thought to be accompanied by speaking in tongues. This understanding of a subsequent baptism in the Spirit is not a uniform teaching unique to just the Pentecostal or Charismatic movements, but has crossed virtually every denominational line. Therefore, there are a variety of flavors for understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit.

Part of the confusion stems from the various ways the work of the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament. The language of “baptism” in the Spirit and “receiving” the Spirit and being “filled” with the Spirit makes us wonder if there is any crossover with these terms. We then read experiential accounts, especially in the book of Acts, where people were mightily transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Southern Baptists have not been unaffected by these discussions. Issues related to a “private prayer language” that is believed to come through the ministry of the Holy Spirit has caused dissension not only in our churches, but also in SBC entities. Nevertheless, Baptists have traditionally held to a single baptism experience in the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion.  That is also my personal belief. I will briefly explain why and then provide one obvious push-back to my position.

There is sufficient teaching from multiple texts to indicate a single baptism in the Spirit. I will list three here.

1 Corinthians 12:13 – “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” 
Paul describes all the believers in Corinth as being baptized in one Spirit into one body. The only reasonable reading of this text is to understand the “all baptized” language to indicate every convert in Christ was immediately baptized by one Spirit. In other words, if there were those who had not yet experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then Paul’s declaration that “all” had been baptized in one Spirit would not be correct.

Ephesians 1:13-14 – “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Since the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation, the idea of a subsequent baptism in the Holy Spirit would render those who have not received that baptism “unsealed” in their salvation when they placed faith in Christ. Notice the pattern – when you believed…you were sealed. Belief in Christ and being sealed by the Spirit occur simultaneously.

Romans 8:9 – You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
If a person truly belongs to Christ, then they have the Spirit. If they don’t have the Spirit, then they don’t belong to Christ. Thus, for a person to place faith in Christ but then wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit necessarily means they are not truly a Christian until their subsequent baptism. But that is contrary to every description of faith in the New Testament.

Now for some push back. Acts 8 provides an extraordinary account of Samaritan believers receiving the Holy Spirit well after they believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is the text:

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”  Acts 8:14-17

So, if we receive the Holy Spirit immediately upon our confession of faith, how do we explain the account in Acts 8?

Answer:  I don’t know.

I have read several explanations for Acts 8 and all of them seem to fall short in one way or another. Here are a few things that I find to be helpful, but probably none of these points will persuade someone who is convinced of the second blessing doctrine.

First is the existence of two different kinds of teaching in the New Testament relating to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Some of the teachings are propositional while others are experiential, written in narrative form. Both are authoritative and without error, but both might not be meant to convey truths that are ongoing for every experience of regeneration. In other words, a one-time experience specific to a Samaritan context in Acts 8 might not be (and I would argue, isn’t) a normative experience of the Holy Spirit, especially if we find propositional teaching elsewhere in the NT to the contrary. So, we can’t take one experience out of context of the Bible’s repeated teaching.

Second, some will argue that the Samaritans in Acts 8 were not truly believers until Peter and John arrived. Thus, there never was a gap between their confession of faith and their baptism in the Holy Spirit because they did not believe until the apostles arrived! But I find this unconvincing. There is nothing in Acts 8 to suggest their belief in the gospel under Philip’s preaching was anything but sincere.

Third, the book of Acts is an exciting history of the church during the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Some of what we see unfold in people’s lives during this time must be understood in this transitional context (for example, the experience of Pentecost). Although we must not deny the credibility of the Acts 8 account or its importance, we should nevertheless be cautious of seeing it as the normative pattern that will be repeated in every believer’s salvation experience.

Fourth,  it is no coincidence that Peter (along with John) is the apostle who arrives in Samaria. Following the flow of the third point above, Peter was the apostle who was appointed by Christ to be the key figure in the early church. It was Peter who was preaching at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the Jews. Peter was in Cornelius’ house when the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles. And in Acts 8, Peter was present when the Holy Spirit was given to the Samaritans. With this transition from old to new, and with Christ’s command to make disciples in “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” it makes sense that Peter, an apostle and pillar of the church, was present in each of those three key moments.  Keep in mind that Philip in Acts 8 is not the apostle Philip. This is Philip “the evangelist” and did not carry the same early authority as did the apostles of Jesus.

When we consider the teaching of the Bible as a whole on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we should avoid reading too much into a singular experience in Samaria during the transitionary time of the early church. Nevertheless, the account will remain puzzling for Bible readers and will keep us digging deeper for truth. Which, I think, is healthy no matter what.

 

 

 

Union With Christ: If We Are Righteous, Why Do We Sin?

I am writing a series of articles concerning a Christian’s “union with Christ” and attempting to answer a few common questions. I have previously written on the definition of union with Christ.

Let’s review for a moment. Every human being is a sinner and separated from God because of the “federal headship” of Adam. Adam was acting as our representative in the garden, so when he sinned against God in Genesis 3 by eating of the forbidden fruit, it is as if we all consumed the fruit in disobedience (Romans 5:12).  Therefore, we are conceived and born into this world with a sinful nature and are by that nature “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).   That is horrific news.

But there is another who also serves as our federal representative – the second Adam – who is greater and better than the first. This second Adam is, of course, Jesus Christ, and when we acknowledge him as the Lord of our life through faith, his actions are credited to us as if we were the ones who carried them out. When Jesus perfectly kept the law, we perfectly kept the law. When Jesus was crucified, we were crucified. When Jesus rose from the dead, we too will rise from the dead.  And so forth.

That is what it means in Galatians 2:20 when it says, “I have been crucified with Christ…” Our old, sinful nature was crucified right along with Christ and we are now new creations in Jesus. We are seen as righteous by God because of our union with Christ – the perfection of Jesus has been imputed to us through faith. That is incredibly good news.

But a very good question comes out of this very good news. If Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us and our sinful nature has been crucified, why do we still struggle with sin? For many Christians, the reality of sin lingering in their lives creates strong doubts as to the validity of their salvation experience. Shouldn’t we be sinless now that we are new creations?

The most common response to this question points to the ongoing struggle between what is perceived to be two natures of a Christian’s life – the sinful nature and the new nature in Christ. We are physically born with a sin nature in Adam and we are spiritually born with a new nature in Christ. Thus, these two natures are in constant conflict with one another. This makes the answer to the question fairly simple – Christians sin when they let their sinful nature take precedence over their new nature.

But I am not satisfied with that response. The breathtaking claims of the gospel demonstrate how the two conflicting natures solution limits the transforming power of Christ. I believe the Scriptures teach a gospel so radical and so powerful that it does not simply bring an additional new nature alongside the old nature to combat it, but rather the gospel puts to death our old nature once and for all, leaving us with a single new nature in Christ.

Consider the language of dying to the old nature when we are in Christ:

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old is passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2nd Corinthians 5:17)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20)

When Paul says that he has died and that the old nature has “passed away,” he is referring to the sinful nature in Adam. If we are to believe that Adam’s sin nature is still alive and well in the life of a believer, then what does Paul mean when he emphatically announces the death of his old nature? These verses would lose their meaning and their power.

When we then consider the language of the New Testament as it encourages a new believer, this makes even more sense. The New Testament does not instruct a believer to wage war against their own personal sinful nature because Christ has already waged that war and has claimed the victory. In his commentary on Romans, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “We are never called to crucify our old man. Why? Because it has already happened – the old man was crucified with Christ on the cross. Nowhere does the Scripture call upon you to crucify your old man for the obvious reason that he has already gone.”

Now, let me address one significant push-back. Someone might say, well what about the verses where Paul instructs us to stop living according to the flesh? Isn’t “the flesh” just another way of saying our old nature? For example, Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” And Romans 7:25 says, “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” So, doesn’t this negate the points I made above? Isn’t our old nature still alive since we can “serve the law of sin” in our flesh?

No, our tendency to satisfy the flesh does not mean we have two conflicting natures dwelling in us. Instead, it means the self-gratifying patterns and memories of our old nature can entice us to think and act and speak in ways that are in opposition to our new nature. Paul acknowledges the reality of those desires while maintaining the one-nature promise of the gospel. Look again at Paul’s instructions to the Romans – right after Paul admits that he is prone to walk according to the flesh, he reminds us in Romans 8:9 that “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” In other words, we are not “in” two competing natures, but we must depend on Christ to renew our minds to the reality of our new identity in order to avoid being lured by the desires of worldly actions. That is why Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And also in Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

Do you see it? The battle before us every day is not an attempt to kill the old nature; Christ has already done that. Our battle is to renew, to remember, to set our minds on who we are in Christ Jesus – that he has completely redeemed us from the curse of sin and has imputed to us his righteousness. That in Christ, we have all the power we need to do all that he requires, including avoiding the patterns of the flesh. That is why it is essential to preach the gospel to ourselves every day, for the beauty of that message keeps us from despair.

Another way to think about our old nature is to consider how we were once under the “dominion” of sin. When we were still bound to our old nature in Adam, we were hopelessly under the reign of sin. But in Christ, sin no longer has dominion. Pauls says, ” For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14). If we had two conflicting natures in us, we would still be under partial dominion since the old nature would still be alive. But the message of the gospel is clear; we are no longer slaves to sin. We will certainly sin, but it does not have dominion over us due to our new nature in Christ.

You might think, well so what? If we are still in combat with the flesh and are prone to wander, what does it matter if it is an old sin nature or patterns of the flesh? Perhaps you think it is a distinction without a difference.

I believe the difference is significant. First, at a minimum, we want to understand what God has to say about our new identity in Christ. If, in fact, we have only one new nature in Christ and not two competing natures, that is important because it is the way God is accomplishing his purposes of redemption. But second, there is freedom in knowing we are no longer enslaved to sin because we are no longer bound by a sinful nature. When a Christian begins to understand the full implications of their new nature in Jesus Christ, they will become more confident of the power available to them to live a joyful, obedient, purposeful life.

So, Christians will continue to sin because we still have corruptible bodies that are prone to fleshly patterns and desires. We have already received the full righteousness of Christ for salvation, but we have not yet put on a glorified body immune to the desires of the flesh. However, we are no longer enslaved by the dominion of sin in our lives because the old nature was crucified with Jesus and we have now enjoy the freedom and power of his presence in us.

I will end with Martin Lloyd-Jones once again as he explains why the one nature truth is so important:

“…you are in Christ. If we but saw this as we should, we would really begin to live as Christians. We would all hold up our heads, we would defy sin and Satan, and we would rejoice in Christ as we ought.”

 

What Should Christians Think About Ghosts?

People are fascinated by ghosts and everyone has a ghost story. Ghosts remain one of the most popular topics for the television and film industry, including the SyFy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” which chronicles the adventures of two real-life “ghostbusters.” What should Christians think about ghosts? Are ghosts real?

Certain presuppositions are necessary for a Christian to process the existence of ghosts. The philosophy of epistemology is the field of study that is interested in the possibility of human knowledge. How do we know what we know? Does truth exist? What is the foundation for what we have come to know and believe? The God of the Bible is a self-revealing God who has provided one of his greatest displays of grace by giving us a revelation of not only his existence, but also of his character, his intentions, and his purposes for the created world. For Christians, we can understand the truthfulness of the world only because we have been introduced to the God who created it, and then revealed it to us.

In light of this, Christians are reminded of the command in Proverbs 3:5 to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and do not lean on our own understanding. Although we typically read this beloved Proverb when we are suffering or persecuted, it is an equally powerful reminder of our tendency to substitute our own subjective experiences for the truthfulness of God’s word. The former is not unimportant, but its boundaries are limited by the latter.

As with most things, when discussing ghosts we need to begin by defining our terms. What do we mean by “ghost?” It seems the word is most commonly used to describe the disembodied spirit of a human who has passed away but returned to the earth for some purpose. The word might also be used to simply describe the presence of a supernatural being on earth. In this sense – that of the reality of a supernatural presence on earth – we can and should affirm the reality of ghosts, although we should call them by another name which we will address below. In the sense that a ghost is the spirit of a deceased human who has come back or been exiled on earth, we must dismiss the possibility as wholly unbiblical.

The Bible provides a consistent and simple pattern for the moments after a person’s death. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Death is followed by judgment, which in turn ushers the spirit of a person into their eternal abode, that being heaven or hell. Jesus says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Luke 16 records the immediate arrival of the rich man into the “torment” of hades and Lazarus into the comfort of Abraham’s side. Paul is confident in 2nd Corinthians 5:8 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The thief was promised a destination of paradise “today” by the Lord Jesus. The long list of passages overwhelmingly provides a clear picture of what happens at death – we are judged and we are placed in an eternal home.

This is significant because Scripture never provides the possibility of a human spirit breaking the boundary of their eternal destination for any purpose, and certainly not for “haunting” a particular person or place. Consider the implications of this kind of ghostly presence. For those who are separated from God in hell, the ability to break from the confines of eternal judgment in order to roam the earth would be a welcomed relief from the darkness, solitude, and torment of their unbelief. However, the devastating reality for denying Christ is the inability to find rest from “the smoke of their torment.” (Revelation 14:11). Likewise, a soul who has a desire to return to earth for a positive purpose will be denied. For example, the rich man in Luke 16 sought to issue a warning to his family of the reality of his horrific condition. He wished to go and proclaim the good news of Christ or even send Lazarus, which he suggests to God in Luke 16:27-28. But again, even for the purpose of “ghostly evangelism,” the boundaries of eternity are locked.

Friend, do you see why the Great Commission is so urgent? We have but one life to live on this cursed earth and one opportunity to make Jesus known to the nations.

This still leaves an unanswered question. How do we explain the supernatural experiences and apparent “hauntings” that so many people have encountered? Should we believe that every person who has ever witnessed the appearing of a supernatural being is delusional? From the very first “ghost sighting” until now, was every occurrence just a mistake? Were they just “seeing things?”

No, certainly not. To be sure, I think many, and let me repeat that – many – experiences are a misunderstanding or fabrication. But that can not be the sole explanation for the thousands and thousands of supernatural sightings over the years. How do we respond?

Remember, the issue is not the reality of supernatural beings. So far we have simply ruled out the possibility of human spirits returning to earth after death.  We learn of  spirit beings from Scripture who can have the ability to interact with humans, sometimes even in physical form, while we are on earth. These are called angels and demons. Angels are righteous and holy, faithful in serving God by serving the saints on earth. Demons are probably fallen angels who have rebelled against God and are seeking to harm and deceive all of God’s children. Deception is the key word. Demons will do anything in their power to deceive God’s people and lead them away from the truth.

It is impossible to believe the narrative of the Bible without believing in angels and demons. To deny the reality of a demonic presence on earth is to deny the “ruler of this age,” who is Satan, the ultimate deceiver. It is because of his deception that the earth is still today under a curse of sin, and it is because of that curse that Jesus Christ was placed on a cross. The hateful waging of war continues by the “father of lies,” despite the deathblow given to Satan on the cross. It is on this battleground of deception by the evil supernatural forces of the world that the experiences which are often known as ” seeing ghosts” will occur.

What about “friendly ghosts” who seek no harm and seem to just mind their own business? What about mediums who get in touch with family members for good purposes? Listen carefully to 2nd Corinthians 11:14-15 – “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” What we must never forget is how demons seek to deceive Christians and will do that by any means necessary, even by revealing potentially true information. Yet, in the hands of the evil one, even true or partially true information can lead to deadly results.

What can we conclude?

  1. Human spirits cannot cross the boundaries of their eternal destination in order to return to earth. In this sense, there are no such things as ghosts.
  2. Supernatural beings – angels and demons – are very much real and have the ability to intersect with humanity.
  3. Demons are motivated by deception and will disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” in order to lead people astray.
  4. God, in his great sovereignty and power, limits the ability of evil spirits to harm Christians and has dispatched angels to fight for and serve humanity.

I want to address a couple of other items from Scripture, including the witch of Endor from 1 Samuel 28, but due to the length of this article, I will address that another time, along with some personal application we can draw from these things for spiritual growth.

 

 

Union With Christ – A FAQ Series

A Christian’s “union with Christ” has been a major doctrine of preaching and teaching at Graefenburg Baptist Church for the last 2 years. In January of 2014, I preached a series through the book of Colossians called “Transform” where we began helping our congregation notice the seemingly endless verses which emphasize the two words “in Christ.” When I was in middle school, there was a little game we would play where a person who notices a Volkswagen Beetle would shout the word “Bug!” and then give the person next to them a little punch in the arm. Well, it wasn’t a very nice game, but all of a sudden I started noticing Volkswagens all over the place. I mean, they had always been there on the road, but now I saw them all the time because I was looking for them. Anthony Hoekema wrote that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament.” The same thing started happening at GBC. Folks began to tell me that they were starting to notice how often the New Testament speaks of “Christ in us” and “in Him” and “through Him” and so forth.

Union with Christ is such an important and necessary doctrine that it naturally raises plenty of questions. As part of my “Question Vault” series of blog entries, I am going to write 3 or 4 articles responding to a few of these frequently asked questions . The first and most natural question with which we will begin is a reminder to us…

What does “Union With Christ” mean?

John Murray once wrote that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” When we speak of our union with Christ, we are talking about our identity, the very core of who we are and what we are capable of. It is sadly not a phrase that is well known in the church and has only recently seen a revival of sorts in Christian discipleship resources. When we think about who we are in relation to Jesus Christ, we tend to think of things such as “following” Jesus, “worshiping” Jesus, “submitting” to Jesus, “obeying” Jesus, and so forth. All of those descriptions are certainly true and clearly biblical, but they are only possible because of our union with Christ.

And let’s face it, most weeks we struggle to follow Jesus. Maybe we have found ourselves unhappy with the way we worship Jesus, as if we are just going through the motions. And obedience? If you are like me, then you are daily struggling in that department…big time.

What happens is that since we tend to think of our relationship to Jesus primarily through these kinds of things, we become guilt ridden when we have those bad weeks (or months) and our worship is off and our obedience is lacking. Guilt likewise leads to despair and feelings of worthlessness, that God might wreak havoc on us because of our shortcomings. Striving for holiness and living the Christian life will not only become a fruitless endeavor without a proper understanding of our union with Christ, but it will also become something we dread.

So, we must understand what Paul understood about his salvation that will do two things for us:
1. Keep us from feelings of guilt and condemnation.
2. Give us the power necessary for joyful Christian living and obedience.

What did Paul understand? His union with Christ. Here are just a few verses that show how Paul treasured and depended on this amazing truth:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

All of these verses teach us a profound truth about the most fundamental aspect of our identity and our salvation:  Because of our position in Christ, his actions are our actions, just as if we had personally carried them out. Christ was crucified, therefore we were crucified. Christ was buried, therefore we were buried. Christ was raised to new life, therefore we were raised to new life. To be in Christ means that Jesus is our representative; what he has done, we have done!

Think about it and be amazed all over again – the reason Paul says we are “hidden” with Christ is because the work of Christ has been credited, or “imputed” to us through faith. Thus, our old nature is dead, it is hidden, it is gone. What’s left is Christ’s work in us, because we are in him!

God looks at us and pardons us for one reason only. God does not pardon us because:
-He is willing to overlook sin.
-He is willing to cut us a break if we do our best.
-He is satisfied with our own works.
-He shows grace instead of judgment.

So what is the one reason why God forgives us and calls us his children?
-He sees perfect righteousness when he looks at us. How is that possible? Because he sees Jesus Christ and his perfect righteousness.

But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does our union with Christ impute his righteousness to us so that we are approved by God, but it also provides for us spiritual power to do what we could never do before. Willpower Christianity does not work. We will never be able to muster enough power from within ourselves to stay consistent with the things of God and find joy in them. It doesn’t matter how many conferences you attend, how many decision cards you fill out, and how many times you “recommit” your life (all of which are great things), only the power of Christ in you is strong enough to carry you to the finish line with joy. That is why the gospel must not be viewed as the thing that gets us saved and then we take over. No, the gospel is our power for daily living.

Consider one more text. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes our union with Christ in a remarkable way. He demonstrates how all humans are currently united with one of two people. Either we are united with Adam, and are thus marked by his sinful rebellion, or we are united with Christ, and are thus marked by his righteousness. Listen to Paul:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

The rock band “Rush” once said, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” That is certainly true here. You will experience a union with one of two men. In Adam, there is death. In Christ, there is life.

So, with this remarkable truth that author Jerry Bridges called “breathtaking,” also comes some important questions. I will begin to address those in the next article.

Soli Deo Gloria!
 

 

Are All Men Created Equal?

I recently came across this article describing the story behind Michael Jordan’s hitting his head against the backboard during his days at North Carolina. It truly is a jaw dropping video.

The more you watch it, the more amazing it is – and the legend of Michael Jordan was clearly being born. As I read through the article, I noticed a simple little comment by basketball analyst Jay Bilas; a comment that was meant to be humorous in light of this incredible video, but that I found rather interesting. He said…

“All men are created equal?….That’s a lie.”

Of course, Jay is stating the obvious. You and I can’t jump as high as Michael Jordan, stay in the air as long as Michael Jordan, and hit our heads on backboards like Michael Jordan, ergo folks aren’t created equal. Jay is on to something here.

“You can be anything you want to be, you just have to believe.” To anyone reading this article – if you ever hear me say that to one of my children, just go ahead and lock me away for a few days until I come to my senses. My children, as amazing as they are, will not be able to be anything they want to be. They won’t have the skill, the knowledge, and a host of other required things to be anything they want. God has put in each of them the skill and knowledge to do something remarkable, but not to do everything remarkable. And that is what we really mean when we say, “you can be anything you want to be” – we mean that our children have the potential to excel in any endeavor they choose, therefore, they can do everything at a high level. They just have to pick which endeavor they want to excel in and go for it. Maybe one of my kids will “want to be like Mike” as the commercial goes, but I’ve got some news for them, they aren’t going to be hitting their heads against backboards and winning 6 world titles.

So, when it comes to basketball, my kids are not equal to Michael Jordan.

The bigger problem is how Jay applies this familiar phrase. The quotation “all men are created equal” was made famous by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. It has since been used in a variety of ways by social and political figures and has been referred to as an “immortal declaration.” Jefferson, and the spirit of the phrase itself, has a much different meaning than that given by Bilas.

First, Jefferson links the equality of all people with an intentional Creator. This “endowment” of certain inalienable rights is not dependent on skill or giftedness, but rather on our beginnings. We are declared equal in the greatest and most important sense of the word long before we begin to notice the development of skill or gifts. Our equality is grounded in our being – God breathing us out into his own image says something far greater than any skill we might develop or knowledge we might obtain. We have upon the moment of our birth transcended the worth of 6 world titles and eclipsed the highest highest human achievement possible – every one of us – because we have the image of God stamped all over us. What could possibly be greater? And of this privilege God has given each of us, male and female, equal share.

Second, based on our equal beginnings, we all have equal rights to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Bilas, of course, would not suggest that Michael Jordan has a greater right to be happy and to pursue life because he can hit his head on a backboard. Nonsense. Jordan has a right to do those things because he is human, imago dei, and it just so happens that he can also play a mean game of basketball. Thus, our equality has nothing to do with skills, roles, knowledge, or gifts, and everything to do with our worth that is tied to creation. From the dust we came, to the dust we return. Equal.

Third, from a biblical perspective, “all men are created equal” reminds us of our own sinfulness. “There is none righteousness, no not one” thrusts all of humanity into the same, hellish condition – in desperate need of a great Savior. This sinfulness, common to all man, is ironically the reason why the great Declaration of Independence reeks of hypocrisy at the time of its writing. For as abolitionist Thomas Day once penned, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

So, Jay is right that we are unequal in terms of our gifts. But that’s not what the phrase means. We are all most certainly equal in terms of our worth before God, and our worth through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Skill vs worth. It is possible that we spend too much time fixated on the former that we fail to rest in the latter.

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Resolutions Are Not Anti-Christian

This time of the year provides a predictable offering of blog material for evangelical Christians. We are certain to hear about the works-righteousness effects of Santa Claus and the anti-christian nature of New Year’s resolutions. For a perfect example of the latter, you can read this.

To be certain, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has once and for all accomplished what we never could. Christ has perfectly kept the law and his sacrifice on the cross is accepted by the Father as our substitute precisely because Jesus is the perfect, spotless lamb. The glorious result is that we who have been saved by Jesus through faith are now dead to the law because we have been made alive with Christ and, in fact, experience a union with Christ whereby his life is our life. Thus, his righteousness is our righteousness. When he perfectly kept the law, we perfectly kept the law. I know, it sounds too good to be true. But it is.

In light of this, any New Year’s resolution that attempts to find favor with God through performing is clearly anti-gospel. I just don’t know of a single Christian who does such a thing. And if they do, then it isn’t the New Year’s resolution that is the problem, but rather a deep rooted misunderstanding of the gospel that attempts to earn God’s love and acceptance through performance. That heart issue will show up every day of the year, not just January 1.

From my experience with church members, resolutions are a way for Christians to say, “I’m not happy with where I am.” Not because they think God doesn’t love them enough, but because they know God loves them so much. It is in light of the gratitude and sheer awe of Christ’s gospel that we strive to pursue holiness with everything we have, and setting goals is an appropriate way of doing that. Most of us will fail at our resolutions. So what? Making resolutions is not about perfectly keeping them, but reminding ourselves of the majestic glory of God who is worthy to pursue with a greater tenacity than the year before.

I think we are in good company here. I see Paul describing this reality in Philippians 3:12. In that one verse we have Paul’s acknowledgement that Christ has already made him His own. Paul’s righteousness is found and bound by the righteousness of Jesus. But Paul’s attitude in light of this is not, “hey, now I’m free to fail!” but  rather “hey, now I’m free to set a goal and press on toward it!”

Andi and I wrote and and discussed our resolutions last night. We love doing that each year. The first thing we did was go back to our 2014 resolutions and giggle when we noticed how far short we fell. Which did nothing but make us thank God for his abounding grace to keep us and protect us in spite of our shortcomings. Then, with excitement, we discussed our 2015 goals and how Christ is worthy to pursue with excellence. All to the glory of God!

Thinking About The Word “Religion”

“Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship”
“I’m not religious, I’m spiritual”
“Religion ties people down; Jesus makes people free”

Those are three popular catch-phrases demoting the use of the word “religion” in regards to Christianity. Are these phrases correct? Should we call for a moratorium on the word “religion” as it pertains to our faith in Christ?

Allow my brief confession from the beginning – more often than not I hear these kinds of things from folks who are pursuing virtually anything other than their relationship with Christ. These kinds of phrases sometimes sound like good coffee-shop, “I’m a deep thinker” cliches spoken to impress some lesser minded soul of the breadth of one’s spiritual insight. But not always. I have also heard similar sentiments spoken from men and women I respect who have an abiding faith in Jesus Christ.

So what should we make of it?

The most important starting place is the Bible itself; what does Scripture teach us about the concept of religion? There are two words for “religion” in the New Testament and they are transliterated as “threskeia” and “deisidaimonia.” Luke uses the word “religion” in Acts 25:19 when discussing the chief priests and elders as they attempt to make their case against Paul. They were working to find a dispute against Paul “about their own religion…” Luke uses the word a second time to describe Paul’s defense before Agrippa in Luke 26:5. In both of these instances, Luke is using the word in a negative sense, indicating the legalism and traditions of the Jews’ rules-based religion. Paul uses the word in Colossians 2:18 in context of his teaching on our freedom in Christ. Paul contrasts true freedom against the ritualistic, ceremonial law keeping of the Jews’ religion. Again, this is a negative use of the word. Finally, James uses the word twice in his letter. In James 1:26, he describes a “worthless” religion as one that is all talk and no heart. This is in line with Luke’s and Paul’s usage. The only positive use of the word is found in James 1:27 where he emphatically describes a religion that is “pure and undefiled.”

Thus, the little amount the word “religion” is used in Scripture it is typically cast in a negative light. However, James 1:27 demonstrates how religion can take on a certain purity, and that purity is connected with action in Christ (care for orphans and widows). Does this help us with whether or not we should use the word “religion?”

As with many things associated with Christian conversation, we need to dig a little deeper with folks to discern just what they are getting at. If someone says, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship” and means that we have been set free from the bondage of sin and ceremonial rule keeping but are instead saved by grace through faith that leads to good works, then I couldn’t agree more. On the other hand, if “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship” means that Christianity is simply about being in love with God and does not require obedience and the pursuit of holiness, then I couldn’t disagree more.

That is what makes the gospel so amazing. The gospel dissolves the errancy of two extreme positions. Christianity is not based on rule keeping, ceremonial laws, or works. It is based solely on the righteousness of Jesus which is ours through faith. And yet, once we are in Christ, Christianity is not devoid of effort, since Paul “worked harder than all of them” and since we “we were created in Christ Jesus for good works…” Yes, they will indeed know us by our fruits.

Only the gospel is able to make both of these things come alive in our hearts. When we reflect on the gospel everyday, we are at a minimum reminded that 1) we could never have done anything to save ourselves; we were ill-deserved to receive any blessing from Christ. This humbles us everyday and fills us with gratitude for the amazing grace of God. Then, 2) we respond to this grace (which gives us power) by believing God’s revelation and pursuing holiness in Christ. That is obedience.

The reason this is dramatically different from the negative uses of “religion” in the Bible is because our obedience is neither the ground nor the security of our salvation. Thus, Christians do not obey to become who we aren’t. Christians obey to become who we already are in Christ. That is the power of the gospel.

So, I don’t mind a bit when someone speaks of the “Christian religion.” Just so long as we both know what they mean. And what the gospel means.

 

 

The Sanctification Controversy – A Beginners Guide

There is a current controversy (that may be too strong of a word, but we’ll go with it) among evangelicals concerning the nature of sanctification in a believer’s life. Let me do my very best to cast the controversy in terms everyone can understand.

The question of the sanctification debate is simple – how does a Christian pursue sanctification (growing more into the image of Jesus)? Or, perhaps worded differently, should a Christian pursue sanctification? At the heart of these questions is the issue of what a believer is (or isn’t) expected to do as a Christian. Does the Bible issue commands to pursue holiness that are directed toward believers with the expectation that Christians are to obey them?

One side of the debate, articulated most adamantly by a pastor named Tullian Tchividjian, is the position that the commands in the Bible, sometimes referred to as the “moral law”, are not given for NT believers to obey.  Tchividjian does not deny the goodness of the law insofar as it makes us very aware of our own sin and depravity, thus pushing us into the merciful arms of Christ. What Tchividjian does deny, however, is that after placing faith in Christ, believers are now expected to obey the commands in the Bible in order to pursue sanctification. All that commandment keeping and law abiding is the stuff of legalism and has no place in a grace-filled gospel. What does Tchividjian do with the verses that speak of obeying the commands, such as 1 John 5:3-4? He interprets these verses through the work of Christ who has perfectly kept the law. Thus, believers are no longer obligated to keep the commands in the Scriptures because Jesus has already kept them for us. In fact, Tchividjian takes it one step further. He teaches that even if Christians wanted to obey the commands, we would always fail because we remain completely depraved by sin. Thus, sanctification is not a “cooperative” effort – it is all Christ’s work, not our work.

Now, at this point I need to remind you what we are talking about. We are not talking about our initial salvation experience. Becoming a Christian most certainly is a monergistic work, that is to say, Christ’s work alone saves us, not by anything we do, but only by what He has done on the cross. What we are discussing here is what happens after a person becomes a Christian. Obviously, the gospel and grace are needed every single day of our lives. But does our work, empowered by grace, cooperate with Christ in order to shape us and mold us more into His image? Tchividjian would say no.

On the other side of the debate, as you might expect, is the position that the commands in the Bible are given for NT believers to love and obey. This side of the debate not only views the law as that which condemns us and pushes us to Christ, just like Tchividjian does, but also believes the commands in Scripture are given to be obeyed by Spirit-filled Christians for the purpose of growing in grace. Thus, sanctification is a cooperative effort empowered by the grace of God.

From an application standpoint, preaching, teaching, and exhortations are going to look much different based on which side of the debate you land. If you are under Tchividjian’s preaching, you will not be led to obey the commands under the power of the Spirit. You will not be told to “work hard” in obedience to the moral precepts of God. You will probably be told to “run to Jesus” who will “make you better” apart from obedience to a list of rules. You will be told that you don’t have to do anything, but that you will want to do everything.

If you are under preaching from the opposite position, say for example the preaching of Kevin DeYoung, you will be led to obey the commands of Scripture under the power of the Spirit. You will be told to get to work in obedience to the moral precepts of God. You will certainly be told to “run to Jesus”, but the process of Him making “you better” will be in part outlined through obedience and adherence to His commands.

Both sides agree that works do nothing to save us. Both sides agree that the gospel frees us from the ceremonial aspects of law keeping. Both sides agree on the daily necessity of the gospel for Christian living. For one side, the gospel of grace frees you from pursuing sanctification through obedience. For the other side, the gospel of grace empowers you to pursue sanctification through obedience.

This debate is nothing new of course. This has been an ongoing discussion for about, oh I would say 2,000 years. It is connected to the Law/Gospel distinction. Nevertheless, it is a prominent issue of debate and discussion among evangelical leaders today and, unfortunately, has started to become a distraction to Great Commission work.

I recommend this article by Tullian Tchividjian to better understand the monergistic position.

I recommend this article by Kevin DeYoung to better understand the synergistic (cooperative) position.

Donald Sterling Does Not Make You A Good Person

I listen to ESPN’s Mike & Mike sports radio show almost everyday (actually, I listen to an abridged version called “The Best of Mike & Mike” podcast) and I was struck by a comment Mike Greenberg said yesterday in relation to the recent events surrounding L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the strong response by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. In case you somehow missed it, Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA, fined 2.5 million dollars, and could potentially be forced to sell his team.

Providing commentary yesterday on his show, Greenberg gave a nod to the principle of causality commonly referred to as karma to explain the consequences of Sterling’s actions. Greenburg said:

“I believe strongly in karma…Donald Sterling is a bad guy and has been doing terrible things to people for a long time…payback is a ‘you know what’ and this person had it coming for a long time.”

That is a fascinating quote for many reasons. I want to make two observations from a Christian worldview.

1. God has created all people, men and women, equal because all people are created in the image of God. The words and actions connected with Donald Sterling not only have “no place in the NBA”, they have no place in all of life and are an attack on the very nature of humanity. Christians should appreciate the decisive response from commissioner Adam Silver for reasons far greater than the integrity of the NBA; nothing is more important than recognizing one another as the “masterpiece” of God’s creation whereby no one person, gender, or race enjoys a position of superiority over another. We are right to pronounce this kind of behavior as “terrible” and should applaud the NBA’s swift response.

And yet, we have to be careful. Listen to Mike’s words again:  “Donald Sterling is a bad guy and has been doing terrible things to people for a long time.” That statement, although absolutely true, has the potential to greatly diminish our transformation and discipleship into the image of Jesus Christ. Why would I say such a thing? Because…

Transformation requires dependence on Christ
Dependence on Christ requires need of Christ
Need of Christ requires awareness of sin
Awareness of sin demands we see it for what it is

It is my belief that a significant reason we do not see more transformative growth happening in the context of the local church is because we have churches who do not recognize the gravity of their own sin. We know we are “sinners” and we say we are “sinners” but we certainly don’t believe we are capable of the depravity of Donald Sterling. No, our sins are the “respectable sins” that Jerry Bridges so eloquently speaks of…but they are every bit as damning. I am not suggesting all sin is “equal” in its practical impact or degree of consequences. And yet, in light of a holy God who sits on the throne with glory and honor and power, our greatest deeds are nothing but a dirty rag. The depth of Donald Sterling’s trangressions does not make you a better person in light of God’s holiness. Only the power of Christ can do such a thing. So be careful, Christian, when recognizing the depth of depravity and sin in another person…let that bring us to our knees in repentance of our own “terrible things.”

2. Karma has nothing to do with Christianity. If you are a Christian, never use that word. Our future blessing is not based on the goodness we have managed to accomplish during the course of our life, but is dependent completely on the work of Christ on our behalf. All our blessings come through Christ. Every one. Likewise, Christ has suffered and died to take the punishment of sin for us. Thus, a Christian is not punished today for sins we have committed in the past. Karma is a false principle based on a false worldview.

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