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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

Month

August 2015

The Golden Chain: Why the preaching of the cross is essential to our pursuit of obedience

There is never a point in your Christian life when you move beyond the need for the preaching of the cross.

So crucial is that moment in redemptive history that Paul says that “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”(I Cor. 1:18) We should see the words “being saved” as significant. From beginning to end the “word of the cross” is indispensable to our salvation. Paul felt so strongly about this that he pledged to the Corinthians that the core of all he would teach them would be “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2)

The preaching of the cross is central to the life of the Christian because in the cross we find both the source of our pardon from sin and the impetus for our obedience, and it is that last point that needs to be emphasized.

Perhaps nowhere else do we see more clearly how indispensable the preaching of the cross is to our obedience to God than we do in 1 John. John presents what I like to call the “golden chain” of our Christians walk. These beautiful links in this chain, when connected, provide a guard against legalism (religiosity) and antinomianism (liberalism). The chain anchors our maturation and growth in holiness solidly in the gracious, once-and-for-all finished work at the Cross.

If you have ever wondered how to avoid legalism, this chain keeps you looking to the cross, fixed on grace. If your ever wondered how to avoid liberalism and license, this chain pulls you inevitably toward holiness.

To see this most clearly in 1 John, it helps to work backwards and begin with the question:

Why do we obey God in a way that is not mere religion?

The answer is that we obey out of love. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) The words “not burdensome” are important. We all know what it is like to comply with a command, even a difficult one, because of love. We will do all sorts of things, costly things, for the sake of those that we love. Begrudging obedience is not the obedience that is supposed to mark the Christian life. This is because obedience to God is not the seed of love, but the fruit of love. We obey God as we ought, inevitably and with joy, when we love him.

Why do we love God?

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Our love for God is the source of our obedience, it is the motivation of our growth in holiness, it is the ground of our righteousness. This link in the chain causes us to see that our love for God does not have its source in us, but in him. The scriptures makes clear that we were, in fact, enemies of God. So our love, leading unavoidably to obedience, has its source in him. This is generally to be expected. Love is an internal force that has an external motivation. A heart beats on electrical impulses, but when that heart stops it must be shocked from the outside. We obey God, because we love God, we love God because he first loved us, now….

How do we know God loved us? 

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Understanding what a “propitiation” is, is hugely important in helping us understand why we are motivated to obey. A propitiation is a big but specific word which means someone that  “appeases divine wrath”. And where was it that Son acted as a “propitiation for our sins”?

On the cross. On the cross where the Son cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 16:34) It was there that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was forsaken because in love in our place he underwent the judgment of his Father for our sins. In love so deep, in justice so true – he took our place.

We obey God, because we love God, we love God because he first loved us, and we know he first loved us because while we were still His enemies He sent his Son to the cross to be the propitiation for our sins. 

Understanding the depth of our sin and the magnitude of God’s holiness is essential to seeing the cross as precious, resulting in love that overflows in willing obedience.

If one link of this chain is missing, the good news is compromised and we slide into legalism or worldliness. If we try to obey without the cross in view any success will be a source of pride and any failure a source of despair. We will tend to look down on others when we do well, because we will have failed to see the fury of the wrath Christ bore for our pride. If we believe God loves us because we first loved him, we have not seen the depth of the sin for which Christ had to atone, which makes our love weak. It would mean that we have come to love God because we saw it as reasonable to, which means it is likely we will only obey when it seems reasonable. If God’s love for us first depended on our love for him, we would never know his love.

The preaching of the cross is not only the way we know how to be forgiven, it is through the Spirit’s work the motivation for our obedience – radical obedience. I could expound more and more on the implications of this, but I will allow the reader’s mind to run with it.

The preaching of the cross is essential to our pursuit of obedience. Preachers must never leave it out, Christians must always keep it in sight. We see there in one moment the dead-earnest justice and holiness of God and the tender and unfailing love of God which moves us to obey not out of duty but out of desire – out of delight.

In your Christian walk, in your fight against sin, in your labor for the Lord, never, ever, lose sight of the cross and all that it means.

To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,

And hear His pardoning voice;

Changes a slave into a child,

And duty into choice.” 

William Cowper

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Marks of Maturity: Submission to Authority

As a pastor there are certain criteria which I look for in those whom I am considering giving responsibility to in the church – especially when that responsibility entails a visible role in the public ministry of the church. In particular when considering people who will lead ministries, bibles studies, and teach, it is important that a measure of spiritual maturity is visible to all.

The reason maturity for those serving visibly is so important is because of the nature of our calling as a church. Here is just a short list for why we should seek to be discerning and sometimes slow about giving responsibility.

The church exist to display the wisdom and glory of God – (Eph. 3:10, 21) The church does not exist to bolster self-esteem or to give people something to do, it exists for the glory of God. This reality requires pastors and church members to approach public ministry patiently and carefully and with much preparation and eagerness for correction.

The church is an embassy of Christ’s kingdom – (2 Cor. 5:20) We represent Christ in the world, therefore, we take care about who we give responsibility to. An embassy is rogue which has spokesmen who misrepresent the policy of their nation (doctrine).

When James 3:1 tells us that “not many of you should become teachers” it should give us all pause. And pastors need to realize that they bear the responsibility not only for what they teach, but who they put in a position to teach. Because through teaching the “policy” of the kingdom is made known, through teaching we know who Christ is and what he is like. Through teaching our actions are informed. Our calling as a church means that any kind of teaching should be done carefully, soberly, and with a healthy portion of trepidation.

Those who would teach in any capacity should seek maturity and pastors should look for those that are mature.

When we consider how to discern the spiritual maturity of someone it is helpful at times to first consider what maturity in Christ is not:

It is not necessarily:

Tenure – how long someone has been a Christian or how much experience in ministry they have

Knowledge – Theological aptitude  or how much Bible one knows

Skill – The ability to speak, sing, string together coherent thoughts, etc.

Now, these are things that will be present in someone who is mature, and we must look for these things in order to be faithful (1 Tim. 5:22, 2 Tim. 2:2, Titus 1:9). But we should look beyond these for clearer signs of actual maturity.

Maturity in Christ is parallel to a deep humility and sense of need for the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:15, 1 Cor. 15:9). Such a humility is one that is marked by teachability, a sense of the need for others, and an ability to cheerfully submit to authority. An appropriately humble person does not grasp for opportunity or complain when it is taken away, but humbly serves and takes responsibility as it is handed out with great trembling. They have a humility that recognizes the seriousness and privilege of our calling as a church and therefore sees responsibility in the church as a privilege and not a right.

I hope to talk in later posts about the necessary “maturity marks” of Gospel neediness and teachability, but today I want to address the mark of maturity which is the ability to submit to authority.

As a general rule I will not give more responsibility to someone who has shown they have problems cheerfully submitting to spiritual authority (parents, church elders, congregation). Constant push back to directions and parrying and excuse-making are signs of profound spiritual immaturity which should be a warning to pastors evaluating people for service.

Faithful Christian service is that which is modeled by Christ himself. And Jesus, the perfect God-man, throughout his life modeled submission to authority:

  • As a boy and up to manhood he was sinless and yet he submitted to his sinful parents (Luke 2:51).
  • He did nothing on his own authority but only what his Father instructed him to do (Jn. 8:28)
  • When in his humanity he wanted escape from the terrors of experiencing God’s wrath, he submitted his will to his Father (Mk. 14:36)

A man or woman may be able to defend reformed soteriology like Sproul himself, may have a long list of ministry accomplishments, and display great skill, but if they bristle when corrected or get upset when they are told to do or not to do something by those in authority, then that is not a spiritually mature person.

Until a person becomes a good example of walking according to Hebrews 13:7,17 they should not be given a position of authority – whether that be leading kids’ ministry, small group, equipping class, or music ministry.

We don’t want to test people, but sometimes I think it is wise to ask someone you are evaluating for a leadership or a visible ministry role to do something that they may not like. Keep them accountable and see how they respond when challenged. We all have area we need to be challenged in, so there will always be opportunities to see how someone responds to the exercise of authority.

Sadly, in the church people stay immature in this way too often, and many it is those in authority, namely pastors, who are to blame. So as pastors here are some things to pursue in order to cultivate people who are comprehensively mature, namely in the area of submitting to authority:

Pray – I can’t change anyone’s heart. Only God can do that. Pray for them and pray for yourself. The members of the church are called to submit to those in authority, but we who are in authority must make sure we are not being “authoritarian” in our leadership. Which leads to the second thing.

Model – set an example of submitting to authorities. This could mean deferring to other elders, deferring to the congregation’s decision, or in cases where there are not multiple elders, leaders must show themselves to be submitted to authority by bowing to Scripture rather than their own preference.

Instruct – we all have blind spots and often people have problems with authority and may not even know it. Be a faithful disciple-maker by setting forth submission as a mark of spiritual maturity rooted in Scripture. Teach what biblical submission looks like.

Be Patient – Make sure that you recognize that some things you will ask people to do will be hard. Be compassionate. Try to walk in their shoes. Don’t be aloof. Be a servant leader. Approach people and challenge them with humility. God knows I have failed at this often. If met with a poor response to instruction don’t react with either extreme of brute force or cowardice, stick with your convictions with humble confidence. Listen to their objections and pray about them. Don’t expect people to change overnight, because you don’t change overnight either. Realize that even objections from a rebellious person often hold a dose of truth that we in authority need to take.

As a quick word to those under authority, you need to realize that Christ, not your pastor, is your ultimate authority. As Christ rules his church through his Word, that is your highest standard. You should not submit to leaders who ask you to disobey Scripture. Scripture is final! But if you are being asked to do something that is “not how you think it should be done” but you cannot show your leaders their error from God’s word, then you need to submit to the wisdom of your leaders.

Pastors, when looking for leaders don’t grab the first person who agrees with you theologically or can strum a guitar. Be patient. Look for the deeper, more profound signs of maturity. In so doing you will save yourself, the church, and the Holy Spirit, much grief. God is not in a hurry and neither should we be. Be faithful. Be careful. And keep our high calling as a church in plain view.

My Glory I Will Not Give To Another: The Jealousy of God & The Necessity of The Incarnation

Living in the part of the world where I do, desiring to be a faithful Christian witness, requires the ability to answer certain questions, especially those regarding the deity of Christ and the Trinity.

A question that has come up not only here, but across history is, “Why did God have to become man?”

There are a lot of dimensions to the answer to that question. Why did the atoning sacrifice have to be God as well as man?

The most common answer given is something along the lines of “an infinite guilt before an infinite God required a sacrifice of infinite worth”. This is a true answer, but left to itself that is somewhat of an unsatisfying answer and even difficult to thoroughly substantiate from scripture alone. I think this answer is absolutely true, but another dimension that is often neglected in answer to the question “why the God-man?” is the jealousy of God.

The answer to the question central to the Christian faith has multiple dimensions. The justice of God, the love of God, the wrath of God, the mercy of God, the righteousness of God all must be considered in finding the “why” of God becoming man. But I think that there is one foundational doctrinal dimension that isn’t mentioned.

That is the jealousy of God. When we talk of the jealousy of God we must not think of a pouty child who didn’t get what their friend has. No, God must be jealous because he is perfectly righteous. God must always act in a way that upholds his glory. To do otherwise would be unjust. For God to seek anything other than his glory as his ultimate aim would be unrighteous, which he cannot be.

The first and second commandment that God gave to his people highlight this as a foundation which all else must be built on.

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:3-5 ESV)

To worship anyone else as God or to place alongside God any competitor is the root of wickedness.

Thus even in His acts of grace God is working for his glory, as he makes clear in his mercy toward Israel in the midst of their rebellion:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” (Ezekiel 36:22-23 ESV)

In Ezekiel, God was making a promise to show his chosen people amazing mercy and we know from other places that though he loved them, his ultimate reason for saving them instead of destroying them, was his “name”, his reputation, his glory. God does not need to pretend to be something that he is not. In fact he must be and act according to what he is – ultimate. He must vindicate his glory.

Therefore, in saving a people for his glory from their sins it was necessary that God structure that salvation in such a way that without mistake he would get all of the glory for that salvation. Not only did his justice have to be met and his law kept, it had to be done in a way in which he received all of the praise for it. Therefore, Ephesians 2:8-9 declares to recipients of that salvation:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Salvation must be by grace because God alone must get all of the glory. This is important for us to see in order for us to understand the “why” of the incarnation. A plan of salvation, if it were even possible, that required 99% God’s grace and 1% the works of man would conflict with God’s righteous demand that he get all of the glory.

So how does this relate to the incarnation of Jesus Christ? What does the jealousy of God have to do with why God stepped into time and became man? Seems like a bit of a paradox – that God in the vindication of his glory would humble himself to such a degree. But when you understand what God accomplished in the flesh it becomes clear why.

This much is certainly clear. It had to be a man, a perfect man, who would die in the place of men (Heb. 2:9-18). There had to be a second Adam to be the head of a new humanity. But this man had to be God because in saving a people for himself God had to be the one who did the entire work so that God alone would get the praise.

Christ, as a man, was completely obedient to God, even to the point of death on the cross for sin that was not his own. What was the result of this?  Philippians 2:8-11 tells us:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11 ESV)

Do you see the “therefore”? As a result of Jesus’ obedience in dying for sin that was not his own, he is given this lofty position, such that at his name every knee would rightly bow.

This bowing and calling “Lord” is behavior that only God himself is worthy of. Let’s imagine for a second that it was possible for a man, a mere man, to be perfect and to die for the sins of God’s elect. The debt of gratitude is immediately transferred to the one who died! If the fire department sends a truck to come to my rescue and a firefighter dies in the process of rescuing me, who do I remember? Who do I praise? Best case scenario I split the credit and praise the firefighter and the department for sending him. But can God share his praise with man?

I am the LORD; that is my name;

my glory I give to no other,

nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV)

If God shared his praise with a merely human savior he would not be good or righteous.

God had to become man and secure our entire salvation himself from start to finish because he must get all of the glory.(1) This is a fixed reality in the universe because of who God is. He must get all of the praise. God humbled himself in love and became man to die for sinful men because this was the only way he could save us and get all the glory. If, theoretically, it were even possible for a man to be perfect and die in the place of men, it would not be right because it would divert praise away from God himself. God must get all of the credit for our salvation, that – I would argue – is the crowning reason that God became man.

Someone had to die in our place that was a pure sacrifice. That someone had to be a man. And he had to be God – because among other reasons, God must get all of the glory.

Salvation must be accomplished in such a way that we declare with David:

“Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8 ESV)

And praise God it was accomplished. Because God became man this is the song that we will sing forever,

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10 ESV)

This is how it must be.

So when someone here asks me, “Why do you believe God had to become man?”

My first answer is, “Because if God is going to save us, he must get all of the glory.”

Footnote:

(1)  This introduces another interesting fact that only a God that is Trinity could save us. Without a God who is Triune there is no salvation.

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