Friday, April 29, 2011

Monarchy and Marriage

Recents events -- the Royal Wedding -- call out different responses from different folks. It's good in the midst of all the sentiment and adverse or neutral response to regain some kind of Biblical perspective.

1)  The government is a monarchy -- Jesus Christ is King.

It's necessary to remember that this King -- eternal God the Son -- is also one of us, virgin born of a woman, born under law, yet without sin.  Our King has died -- truly, glassy-eyed dead -- under the curse due our sin and the attacks of Satan, and yet by divine power he has has returned to life -- life eternal, in total harmony with his divine nature, no longer subject to death, and he has triumphed over the devil and all dark powers, and risen to the right hand of God the Father, where this Man reigns over heaven and earth!

Christ has died!
Christ has risen!
Christ will come again!

On the day of reward, justice and judgment, the divine royalty of the God-man will be visible to every eye.

2)  Our monarch, God the Son, marries.

The wedding supper of our Lamb, a never-ending feast of glory, awaits us.  And, we who believe in him are the bride!  Even now we are one with him through baptism!  Even now, we are inhabited by his Spirit!  Even now, spiritually, we sit with him on his throne! 

In the day of fulfillment the royal wedding glory of the majesty of the Lamb will overpower us, when we see him as he is!  If we saw his glory now, we would die from it, but in that day we will be able to drink in never-ending drafts of it forever and ever.

The faded memory and dim promise of this royal hope still stirs somewhere in the hearts of all our race, even in the hearts of those who reject kings -- or who reject the one, true King of Glory.  But, blessed are all those who trust in him!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Second Man and the New Creation

In Christ the Old Creation died,
     undeliverable by the Law, and crucified for sin.
In Christ the New Creation rose to life, 
     where sin reigns no more.
The world we see with the eye of flesh does not know this, but, thanks be to God, the mystery of Christ has been revealed to us by the Spirit.  The Christ and the New Creation which we now see only with the eyes of faith we shall see with our own eyes when he comes again.  We shall see and touch the Lord Jesus whom we love through the Spirit!

Glory be to God, and to Christ the Lamb of God, who will raise us from the dead!

Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy, Holy, Holy

John on Patmos saw into heaven:

Rev 4:6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

      “ Holy, holy, holy,
      Lord God Almighty,
      Who was and is and is to come!”

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

       11 “ You are worthy, O Lord,
      To receive glory and honor and power;
      For You created all things,
      And by Your will they exist and were created.”

When I was a spiritual kid I naively thought that there was something mechanical about this worship of the living creatures and elders, eternally repeated.

That was before I understood that each act of worship, repeated eternally and ever sincerely from the heart of each, was, every time, a consequence of their ever new and eternally increasing amazement at the infinite depth of the unfathomable glory of the Triune God!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Following Christ the Savior

John 12:20 Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. 21 Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. 
23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.  
27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” 

The inquiries of the Gentiles provoke our Lord to think of the sine qua non of his mission, the sacrifice of himself.  The overflow of the church into the whole world is now called for.  In fact, the world has come "knocking."  Therefore, our Lord must not shrink back, but die -- and multiply.  He preaches to himself, but also to us!

In this, we see our Lord as the author or pioneer of our salvation.  He does not ask us to go where he has not gone before.  He leads the way!  All we need to do is to follow him.  We do not go alone, but in the company and footsteps of the Great Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep.

What ambition, what riches or fame in this dying world counts compared to the fellowship of the Son of God?  He who loses worldly riches, fame or comfort gains eternal riches, fame and comfort in the family of God the Father!

Our Lord, paradoxically points out that his suffering is his glory!  What we shrink back from instinctively, just as a soldier shrinks back from death in his feelings, our Lord shrinks back from, too!  But, he also recognizes that in his suffering he is glorified.  Like a soldier-hero who gives his life for others, our Lord lays down his life under the wrath of God, enduring the pains of hell in body and soul which we shall never see, and all for his love of poor sinners such as we are!

Shall we not trust him with our souls and bodies?  Shall we not follow him, even in his sufferings?  Let us serve him and be with him where he is, forever!  Glory and honor from God our Father await us!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Singing in Harmony

It's not uncommon to hear people seriously affected by certain traditions of worship object to singing in harmony in the church.  I suppose that the usual reason for this is that singing in unison (actually octaves) is supposed to be more emblematic of the unity of the church.  This idea is very old and goes back to the traditions of the post-apostolic church in its Greek philosophical environment.

The only problem with this, as I see it, is that to limit our singing to monophony is similar to limiting our gifts to be of a single kind.  Would it be a better expression of unity in the church if all of us were eyes?  I don't think so.  If the harmony of the different parts of the body is emblematic of the harmony of the gifts of the Spirit in the church, why isn't it reasonable that a harmony of voices in the church could be a chord, rather than an octave?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hardness of Heart

The descent into sin is often a consequence of slow hardening of the heart.  Likewise, repentance and the rise out of sin requires what is often a slow softening of the heart.

Paul makes it plain in Romans, Chapter 2, that full knowledge of the Law -- the difference between right and wrong -- is perfectly compatible with blindness toward one's own depravity.  Jesus said (Matt 23) that the Pharisees sat in Moses' Seat, but blindly and continually broke the law.  This happened because of the hardness of their hearts.  Jesus' story about logs in ones own eyes, compared to splinters in others could fit here, too.  

Therefore, if we even recognize our sin as sin, what passes for "repentance" may often not be very serious.  From bare knowledge of the Law, one can admit to sin.  But, it requires divine illumination to see sin in its true light -- to be horrified by it -- to be repulsed by it -- to hate it and pray against it.  While the heart is still hard, insensitive to sin, it is profoundly easy to fall again, because the only real fear is the fear of being discovered by man.  Softening of heart takes time.  In fact, it is a lifelong process.  It's a common thing for old men who are godly to repent of sins they committed at much younger ages.  Back then, those sins which were so easily ignored are now repugnant in memory.

It's interesting to notice the relationship between Law and Gospel in this matter.  The Pharisees could thoroughly understand how to apply the Law to others, but not to themselves.  It is beyond human capacity.  Bare knowledge of the law may harden you in your own sin.  Only the Gospel delivers from sin.  "Come unto me," said Jesus, and "I will give you rest."  Only the grace of Christ softens the heart.  This is the real work of sanctification, and it is not a work of man.

We ought to continually repent and believe the gospel of our Lord, worship the Triune God, pray, especially for others, fight sin always, and never stop serving Him -- and wait for His deliverance.

It will come.

Sin shall not have dominion over us, because we are not under Law but under Grace.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sin and Deliverance

Paul is clear.  The unmitigated ministry of the Moral Law is a ministry of death to sinners.  But, then we should likewise by no means think that the unmitigated ministry of the Moral Law is life to believers.  Paul is clear:
Rom 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.
The phrase I bring out in significance is the comment "apart from the Law."  What Paul is saying is not that the Incarnation, Ministry, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Session of Christ at the Right Hand of God has made the Moral Law "keepable."  What Paul reveals is that the Way of Life is the path to fellowship with God apart from all Law.  Yes, the gospel must be received, but the gospel is not Law.  It is a free gift.  The Gospel may be called the "law of faith" by Paul, but this is to distinguish the way of faith from the way of works which belongs to the Moral Law.  The "Law" of faith is not another name for the Moral Law.  The way of faith is the only way to fellowship with God in Christ, and this way is apart from the Moral Law.

Now, Paul goes on to teach that our deliverance from the bondage of sin is part and parcel of the way of faith, because it is connected with our union with Christ, which comes about inwardly through faith by the Spirit and is reckoned outwardly in baptism.  He speaks of the contrast between Letter and Spirit, meaning the contrast between the word of the Moral Law and the Spirit of Holiness who comes upon us in Christ.  There is no divorce here between forgiveness (justification) and holiness (sanctification).  The way to forgiveness is the way of the gospel apart from any stricture of the Moral Law whatsoever.  So is the way to holiness.  Not that we aren't instructed by the Moral Law.  The Moral Law, as descriptive of the ways of God, is beautiful.  In Christ, it does not curse, but it nevertheless always accuses.  One would have to be dead in conscience not to feel the accusation, even as a true believer.  Therefore, as Paul teaches, the law is not the medium of our deliverance from sin.  We are delivered in the way of the free grace of the gospel, a way that does not burden us with accusation, but invites us into fellowship with Christ freely.  Do we then not care whether we are delivered from our besetting sins or not?  Surely not.  We must repent.  We certainly must fight against our sin.  But, we can only be delivered from it by our death and resurrection in Christ.  We can only be delivered by the way of free grace.  We can only be delivered by fellowship with Christ, and he only receives sinners.

Are you seeking deliverance from besetting sin?  Give up all your attempts at obedience for acceptance with God.  You are not acceptable to God that way.  The harder you try, the worse it will be.  The Letter of the Moral Law will stimulate more sin, as you strive for acceptance.  Stop that process.  Truthfully accept your state of moral poverty.  Rest in Christ the Savior.  Rest in him whether your friends, your spouse, or your church accept you.  See Christ's deliverance!  You will still have to fight sin, but Christ in his grace will begin to take it away.

This is the way of deliverance.

It is not our victory.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Is The Gospel a Law ? (revised)

There are a million kinds of legalism, for most deviations from the doctrinal and practical center of our faith in the direction of "holiness" can be labeled that way, or at least tend to that.

Gerhard Forde (Lutheran theologian) once described himself, looking in the mirror, as if he were introducing himself to a 'twelve-step group':  "Hello.  My name is Gerhard Forde ...., and I am a legalist."  He was referring to the natural propensity of all men -- especially the unregenerate man, and that portion of our own Christian nature which is as yet unredeemed.

Any motion away from the center of grace in Our Lord Jesus Christ ends up in legalism of one kind of another.  This is just natural, because we are naturally "legal," not naturally "graceful."

My complaint in this post will center on a doctrinal tactic seen often in Reformed circles -- a tactic probably pathognomic of our movement, though by no means held or taught by our confessions, nor by many of our best teachers.  It is this:  The propensity for describing the whole of the Christian life under the rubric of "law," instead of recognizing the distinction between Law and Gospel, and how their relationships interplay.

When we think of repentance and faith as obedience to "law," the Christian life then just becomes an obedience to the Law which is made easier by the work of Christ and the indwelling Spirit.  The same orientation to Law pervades the exhortation to faith and the exhortation to obedience.  But, the Gospel makes a free invitation to receive salvation.  It is not a "law."  (See Rom 4:15 in context).  Receiving this invitation of free grace by faith results in the spiritual freedom of sons -- a state of not being under law, or sin, in the inner man.  The Spirit coming as a gift brings salvation as a gift, and freedom from law and sin in the inner man, resulting in the fruit of the Spirit, fruit which is not against the law, but which begins to fulfill the law, by love.  Peace and freedom in the inner man -- that is, love -- is the real motive for the acts of love, the fruit of the Spirit that the gospel calls for.

The Law gives us the vision of what ought to be (but isn't), and we must have this testimony for our warning and instruction.  But, evangelical obedience is produced by the Gospel.  It is not produced by the Law.  Love only comes with the Spirit of freedom.  Spiritual freedom is the free gift of grace, received through faith alone in the atoning work of Our Lord Jesus Christ -- nothing else.