Archive for July 2008
I’ve long since ceased to apologize for light posting. Sometimes I don’t have anything to write about. Sometimes I have too much to write about. And sometimes I’m writing other things than blog posts.
Then there are vacations. My family and I just returned home from one to our lovely homeland of Virginia.
So instead of anything profound from me–questionable even at my best–I’m providing you with two things you should check out if you haven’t yet.
- CJ Mahaney on Leadership and Family Vacations – Guys, this is a must read article for you before you go on vacation with your family. If you’ve already made that summer pilgrimage let me suggest you read this article and do some post vacation self-examination.
- Martyn Lloyd-Jones Podcast – If you aren’t subscribed to this podcast, subscribe now. Lloyd-Jones is a masterful preacher who has been leading me to the cross through these recordings all week. Listen, meditate, pray, repeat.
Last Sunday night marked the five year mark for my ordination. It being a Sunday that I was asked to preach on I decided to pick a verse that summed up what I wanted to be as a pastor. I chose 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
My main point was that pastoral ministry is primarily concerned with preaching the message of reconciliation. Pastors can do many good things but if they are not primarily telling people–lost and saved alike–the message of reconciliation then they aren’t doing the main thing. No truth has humbled me over the past five years than this one. This glorious message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ is what I want to mark my ministry until the Lord should return or take me in death.
In explaining the passage I wanted to show five parts of the message of reconciliation.
- The message of reconciliation is centered on Christ
- The message of reconciliation is for the world
- The message of reconciliation deals with sin
- The message of reconciliation is God’s appeal through pastors
- The message of reconciliation is about double imputation.
However, when I got up to preach I had less time than I had thought. We had a superb mission report on the front end of the service for which I did not adequately allot time. So I had about 20 minutes to preach a 40 minute sermon. It was at that point I was glad that I work from a simple outline rather than a manuscript. In the end I think I should have cut more content rather than illustrations. But the Lord is sovereign over my preaching whether I think it was good or bad, long or short.
I leave you with John Calvin’s thoughts on the passage.
Ministers are furnished with this commission, that they may bring us intelligence of so great a benefit, nay more, may assure us of God’s fatherly love towards us. Any other person, it is true, might also be a witness to us of the grace of God, but Paul teaches, that this office is specially intrusted to ministers. When, therefore, a duly ordained minister proclaims in the gospel, that God has been made propitious to us, he is to be listened to just as an ambassador of God, and sustaining, as they speak, a public character, and furnished with rightful authority for assuring us of this.
- John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Corinthians, 236.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – The Message of Reconciliation
But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ’s death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God’s grace—which he owes to no one—given to them in Christ from eternity.
- Synod of Dort, 2.7
The beauty Dort is its consistent reminder of the sovereign grace of God. It is as if the confession pauses every once in awhile to say, “Remember, all this is because God’s is both merciful and sovereignly relentless.” The section above is one of these grace pit stops.
I preached morning and evening this past Sunday. I had forgotten how exhausting it was. I used those two sermons to wrap up my series through Psalm 84. The series worked out to be:
- The Presence of God (v 1-2)
- The Peace of God (v 3)
- The Pilgrims of God (v 4-7)
- The Praise of God (v 8-12)
In the morning sermon I was trying to highlight the theme of pilgrimage. I traced from Genesis 3 into Revelation the concept of pilgrimage as incomplete fellowship with God. By the very fact that the Christian’s salvation is not yet complete–to be completed at the second coming–makes him a pilgrim in the earth.
The evening sermon closed out the psalm. My main point was the all satisfying joy found in the praise of God. I’m deeply indebted to Jonathan Edwards and John Piper for most of my content in that sermon.
The Pilgrims of God
The Praise of God
Resolved, to think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and the common circumstances which attend death.
- Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Hendrickson: Peabody, 2000), 1.lxii.
I call it hospital honesty. People don’t play games in the hospital. The thought of death has a clarifying affect on people. Imagine your next physical. The doctor walks in and says, “We have a new device. It can tell you the exact day of your death. We ran your information through and the exact day of your death is…” How would you feel leaving that appointment. Maybe somber. Maybe sad. Definitely focused on the time you had left and what it will be like to stand before God’s throne. This is Edward’s point. To think on death puts both this life and the next into vivid focus.
However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault.
- Synod of Dort, 2.6
Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody has been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
- Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Hendrickson: Peabody, 2000), 1.lxii.
This is the very definition of radical humility. I know no one else’s heart as well as my own. I know no one else’s sin as well as my own. These two truths must lead me to the conclusion, “I’m the biggest most miserable sinner I know.” My response to other sinners should always be, “I must be worse. I am in more need of the gospel than anyone else.” It is out of this kind of humility that Paul uttered those famous words, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:24
You’d be surprised how often I get asked, “What is Reformed theology?” Or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. Its a difficult question to answer. Its difficult not because of the lack of answers but because of the abundance of answers. Reformed Theology could be defined as any or all of the following,
- Luther’s 95 Theses, The Bondage of the Will, or Commentary on Galatians
- Calvin’s Institutes
- The findings of the Synod of Dort
- The Westminster Standards
- The Doctrines of Grace
- Anything written by RC Sproul or JI Packer
- And many other good descriptions of God’s sovereign grace to poor sinners
If you too struggle to understand or explain Reformed Theology, let me offer you one verse to sum up the basics: 1 Thessalonians 5:24.
“He who calls you…”
God initiates relationship with sinners. This is contrary to every other religion that tells you how to seek God. The fallacy of seeking God is that sin has made man incapable and unwilling of seeking God. It is the farthest thing from fallen man’s desire. That is not to say that fallen men and women do not seek gods. They seek, find, and make gods–idols–everywhere. But they want no part of the true God. He is utterly unlovely and undesirable to the fallen mind.
No, God must and does seek sinners. The story of the Bible is of a holy God calling sinful men and women into relationship with himself. His call, made efficacious by the Holy Spirit, changes a man’s nature. That change, made possible by the atoning death of Jesus Christ, makes God utterly beautiful and worthy of worship. But make no mistake, relationship with God is initiated by God.
Good relationships die without faithfulness. Whether friendship, business relationship, marriage, or divine covenant, faithfulness must be present. Every other religion touts man’s faithfulness to God as the basis of divine relationship. Man performs; God rewards.
Only this runs contrary to all that we know about ourselves. Humans live in relational carnage. The best and deepest of human relationships are scarred by failed expectations. The experiment of fallen humanity has produced one law: man is unfaithful.
This is the glory of the gospel–of the Reformed variety. It is God who is faithful for both himself and man. Jesus Christ took up man’s place in his incarnation and lived an utterly faithful life to God even unto death. This faithfulness is imputed to Christians by God’s free grace through faith. Man is made faithful in Christ. God–unchangeable by nature–roots the promise of redemption in his own faithful character. True relationship with God is built on God’s faithfulness alone.
“…he will surely do it.”
The “it” of this statement is the completed salvation mentioned in the previous verse. Many Christians will claim God’s sovereignty in salvation but vacillate when it comes to God’s sovereignty in Christian living. They end up advocating a “justified by God, sanctified by self” view of Christian life.
What does this look like? The litmus test is easy. Self-sanctification is motivated by guilt. God-sanctification is motivated by grace.
Self-sanctification looks at soul depravity and says, “I’m a failure I must do better. I need to read my Bible more, pray more, evangelize more, give more, attend church more. I will surely do it.”
God-sanctification looks at soul depravity and says, “I’m a failure I must find repent of my sins and find Jesus Christ to be my perfect righteousness. Out of thankfulness for free grace and through God’s power, I want to read my Bible more, pray more, evangelize more, give more, attend church more. God will surely do it.”
Do you see the difference?
It is God who works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure. God’s sovereign grace justifies us. God’s sovereign grace sanctifies us. Jesus Christ is for us our righteousness and sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30).
This is the essence of Reformed Theology, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” It stands in contrast to man-centered Theology which says, “I who call upon God am faithful; I will surely do it.”
- It is God who initiates through his gracious call.
- It is God who alone is faithful for himself by his nature and for us through Christ.
- It is God who accomplishes our salvation through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
It is for these reasons that Biblical/Reformed theology always exalts one great theme: the glory of God. What a glorious God who loves us enough to display his sovereing grace in fallen men through the redemption only to be found in Jesus Christ!
This is Reformed Theology. But more importantly, this is the Bible’s theology.