Friday, July 25, 2014

The Son Came

To save his people
When I named my children, I thought about what their names meant, but meaning wasn't the most important consideration.  Not so with God. When God's Son, the second person of the Trinity, came into our world from his place at the Father's side, God instructed that he be named Jesus, which means God saves, because "he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The meaning of his name pointed to the purpose of his coming: The eternal Son of God came to save his people. This is his planned role in the Triune God's plan of redemption.


The first step for the Son in God's plan of redemption was for him to enter our world as one of us.  John's gospel says, "The Word"—the eternal Son—"became flesh" (John 1:14). This doesn't mean the Son stopped being God, or became a little less God (whatever that would be), for John's gospel is filled with testimony to the full deity of Jesus. Rather, it means that the eternal Son of God was joined forever with genuine human nature, so that Jesus was—and still is—fully God and fully human in one person.

In other words, the Son became human by addition, not subtraction, taking on a human body, a human mind, and a human soul. Theologians sometimes express it like this: "Remaining what he was, he became what he was not." The term Christians use for the union of the eternal Son with human nature is incarnation.

If you're left wondering how the incarnation works, you're not alone. Wayne Grudem writes,
The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.1
Each person of the Trinity had an active role in the incarnation. The Father sent the Son (Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4) and the Son came willingly, "emptying himself," according to Philippians 2:7.

And the Holy Spirit? Well, it's only right that the most profound miracle in the universe starts with a miraculous conception, isn't it? The person Jesus, true eternal Son and true human, was conceived without a human father by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

For Our Salvation

It's because of his miraculous conception that the human Jesus was morally pure (Luke 1:35). Unlike the rest of humanity conceived by ordinary means, Jesus did not inherit a sinful nature from Adam. This is an important detail in the fulfillment of the purpose of the incarnation. If Jesus came "to save his people from their sins," then he himself needed to be sinless. Only another human being, but one without any sin, even a sinful nature, could be an atoning sacrifice to bear our sins and die in our place. (We'll look more closely at how Jesus saves his people, including his atoning sacrifice, in the next post of this series.)

This is one reason our Saviour had to be a human being. But why did he have to be God incarnate? Because, for one, only someone who is both human and God could be the mediator who represents us to God and God to us (1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:9). What's more, because Jesus is God, he is able to accomplish everything he intends to do. He will surely save those who come to him; he can be an effective Savior because he is God.

The incarnation, then, was necessary for God to save us. The union of God and man in Jesus Christ stands at the very center of the Christian faith, because without it there would be no Christians—and no Christianity.

Definition of Chalcedon

The ancient Christians took the biblical data on the nature of the incarnate Son of God and formulated the Definition of Chalcedon, a statement of what all Christians must believe regarding the person of Jesus. Briefly, the Definition of Chalcedon teaches that Jesus has two natures, a human nature and a divine nature. His divine nature is just like God the Father's; his human nature is just like our human nature, except our human nature is sinful and his is not. In Jesus, the divine nature and human nature remain distinct yet united in one person.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about the incarnation of the Son of God.
  1. Study John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:5-11, and Hebrews 2:14-18.
  2. Study the Definition of Chalcedon.
  3. Read up on the person of Christ in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 25 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Here's the section from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology. There's also a section on Christ's State of Humiliation which includes information on the incarnation.
  4. Listen to The Doctrine of the Incarnation by D. A. Carson.
  5. Listen to The Two Natures of Christ by Gerald Bray.
[1] Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, page 563.

This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:
  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe
  6. We Are Made in God's Image
  7. We Are All Sinners
  8. God Saves

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Do you mortify?

The apostle John has a message to proclaim. It's not a new one; it's one from the beginning. It is a message concerning the word of life. His purpose in writing is so that "our joy may be complete." The message is that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (I John 1:1-5).  After this proclamation, John launches into a discussion about sin, using "if" statements.

If we say we have fellowship but walk in darkness (i.e., sin) we're lying, but if we walk in the light, we have fellowship and cleansing from sin. (I John 1:6-7)

If we say we don't sin, we're deceiving ourselves and we don't have the truth in us, but if we confess our sins, we will receive forgiveness and cleansing from sin. (I John 1:8-9)

If we say we have not sinned, we are making God a liar. (I John 1:10)

Dealing with sin is one of the themes of I John. Throughout the letter, there is an understanding that a changed spiritual condition results in a changed life. That means forsaking sin. As John points out in v. 8-9, we will sin, but we have forgiveness. Later, in chapter 2, he will talk about our "advocate," and introduces the principle of "propitiation." No, there is no expectation that we will be sin-free.

Would we dare to say "I have no sin?" When we sit in church regularly, and read the Bible for ourselves, could we actually think we have no sin?  We may automatically deny such a thought, but let's think about this for a minute.
  • Are we unwilling to be told that we're wrong? 
  • Do we resist being corrected? 
  • Do we always make excuses for our conduct?
  • Do we seldom ask forgiveness from others? 
  • When do we apologize to someone, do we open with "I'm sorry, BUT...." which is no apology at all? 
  • Do the people we wrong end up apologizing to us simply to bring the conflict to an end?
Our refusal to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing could very well mean that we don't like to admit that we have sin. We may know it on an intellectual level, but our conduct says something else. Pride is at the root of our sin. We think we know better than God, and we live by the truth we create for ourselves. Yet John reminds us that if don't walk in God's truth, we walk in darkness, and are not practicing the truth (I John. 1:6).

The first step to conquering my sin is to squash my pride. My pride says, "You're not really sinning." When I refuse to admit that I have been arrogant or obnoxious, my pride is telling me, "It's just your personality." When I am reluctant to admit that I am at fault, it is my pride that is telling me that I have a "right."

John mentions cleansing in this passage, cleansing which is through Christ's blood. His sacrifice cleansed me from the sin which separated me from God before I knew Him. Now, it cleanses me from the day to day sin which interrupts my fellowship with Him. There is a reason why when Jesus taught his disciples to pray he included a petition for forgiveness. We need it daily. Do we want our fellowship with God broken?

As a creation of God, one who bears His image, the condition of my heart is of great importance. The consequence for not dealing with sin is serious. I like what John Owen said:
“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Every relationship, every circumstance, every goal in my life will be affected by sin in my heart. But I cannot have forgiveness without first acknowledging that I sin. When I fail to do that, I "deceive" myself (I John 1:8).

And yet, all is not lost. Praise God, there is cleansing from sin! Praise God that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wage war

I have a new blogging rule of thumb: write (if you're going to write) before checking any social media of the day, Twitter in particular. It's a mental deal, no doubt, but on the days I haven't scrolled through all that Twitter has to offer I find I write, when I write, with much more freedom and honesty.

In contrast, on the days I break that rule I sometimes find myself fighting the feeling that my blog is inconsequential and my words insignificant at best, self serving at worst.

Which perhaps is true. I mean, really, I'm a smart girl. I read my own blog and I see the stats. But, bottom line, it's not the stats but my own self consciousness, self doubt, and maybe a dash of selfish ambition that tend to read between the lines of my Twitter feed and sometimes find my small corner of the Internet to be oh so very small and oh so very pitiful.

"I'm taking a break from social media, Instagram especially" my friend confessed to me over scrambled eggs and French toast several months ago. "I just can't handle seeing everyone else's perfect lives and perfect children and perfect homes." My friend is currently persevering through a complicated and messy stage of life and the relative dichotomy between her reality and the appearance of others' perfection on Instagram was too much.

I think my friend is wise.

I suppose I'm trying, in some small way, to adopt a measure of her discipline with my new (and too often broken) blog-before-Twitter rule.

I recently read an article online about Instagram envy. Yeah, it's real and I doubt it's relegated only to Instagram. As I've already confessed, Twitter can have the same sort of effect. For some of us, it's the pictures of the beautifully decorated homes or the exquisitely staged meals that make us bitter. For me, it might be humbly acknowledging someone else's writing to be better and, maybe here's the real rub, better appreciated.

Just keepin' it real.

Years and years and years ago, like when I only had two children and those two only babies at that, I was in my kitchen listening to a syndicated talk show on the local Christian radio station. I have no idea who was being interviewed nor even the subject at hand but the guest on the show that day made a statement I have never forgotten: "Godliness with contentment is great gain but it's comparison that is the beginning of discontent."

What a revelation! Comparison gives birth to my discontent?! As I thought that morning, there in my kitchen, about the areas in my life then prone to dissatisfaction, I began to see the truth of the statement.

And not just then. It's true in today's dissatisfactions too, writing being only a small fraction thereof, the small fraction, that is, which I am willing to confess to you in this space.

Comparison kills contentment. It will either lead us to despair or puff us up with false superiority, both of which are enemies to true gospel contentment.

In Matthew 5, Jesus makes the rather startling command to those who struggle with looking at a woman with lustful intent, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away." He goes on to recommend cutting off the right hand for the same reason. There is, obviously, a wider application than to a man struggling with lust. We all have areas of our lives, Instagram or something else, where we battle temptation and envy and discontent. Jesus recommends what? Dismemberment? Going blind in one eye? I think, and thankfully most commentators agree with me, that Jesus is employing dramatic overstatement here in order to emphasize the point: Sin is serious and requires radical treatment.

We are to be wise and to take whatever steps necessary to put to death...what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5-6) Put it to death. Wage war, as John Piper has said. Can't get much more serious than that.

We tend to think this all a little silly, at least if we're talking about Twitter and blogging and Instagram. Silly and radical and maybe a little, well, you know, "out there." Maybe so. But did you catch what we are to put to death according to Colossians? Impurity, passion, evil desire and, yes, covetousness.

Waging war against sin and temptation and covetousness begins with the wisdom of knowing ourselves and our weakness. We must pray and ask the Lord to search us and expose us. We must be willing to be radical and to do what it takes to fight and flee temptation. Maybe my friend needs to take an Instagram hiatus. Maybe I need to curtail my social media interaction. Maybe you need to throw away the scale or stop buying fashion magazines or lay off the Internet for an extended time. I don't know your weakness but I know mine and I daresay you know yours.

Let's be wise. Let's stop comparing ourselves knowing full well that comparison gives way to discontent. Let us learn the discipline of godliness with contentment. Let us repent of our dissatisfaction that resents the gracious provision of our God. Let us learn the humble submission of gratitude and the joy of freedom that is ours in Christ. Let us glorify Him not by clamoring after the world and its fading treasure but by seeking that which is eternal, His kingdom, His righteousness.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wowed by the Word

In Sunday school, we have been learning about various world views/religions. Our teacher has been covering fundamental aspects of each belief, one of which is "What is its epistemology or source of truth?" Since we've been comparing these world views with Christianity, we've been reminded each week that God is the source of all truth. He has revealed Himself through the Bible, and that ultimate revelation was in Jesus Christ. (Luke 24:27, Heb. 1:1-5)

This may seem like kindergarten material, but think about it. Let it sink in and let it wow you.

The Triune God who is complete in Himself, who has need of nothing, the source of all that is true, good, and holy has condescended to reveal Himself to creatures who rebelled against Him. Truth was personified when the Word became flesh, and truth is now available to us in the pages of a Book authored by God, the Holy Spirit. (John 1:1-4, 2 Tim. 3:16-17)

This is very basic, but sometimes it's good to get a remedial lesson. More often than I would like, I take the Bible for granted. Reading it can be more of a duty than a joy or just a means to get answers to life's questions. I'm the last person to down-play studying the Bible or learning doctrine, but our knowledge of God was never meant to stop at the abstract. Its value lies in the fact that truth objective brings us to love and worship truth personified -  Jesus Christ.

May this wow us every time we crack open the Bible.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review and Giveaway! Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn't Line Up

Perfectionism. It's a loaded word. We largely think of it as a positive thing. Who doesn't want to do all things well? But perfectionism has a dark side. It can become a self-imposed prison where we don't feel like we ever live up to our own expectations. Sometimes, we worry that our imperfections make us unloveable to God.

Even if we know that God loves us, imperfect as we may be, some verses in the Bible can be troubling. 1 Peter 1:16 says "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And also Matthew 5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect." How should we read those verses in light of biblical truth that we are all sinners (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23)? Amy Baker wanted to tackle this apparent disconnect in her book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn't Line Up.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first part, Baker tells the stories of several perfectionists. Since most of us associate perfectionism with people who alphabetize their pantries and straighten the fringes of their throw rugs with a ruler, it's important to see that perfectionism can manifest itself in many different ways. Perfectionism causes some to procrastinate. Others are downright paralyzed from any action. Or they may be angry and controlling. Most readers will find something they can identify with in at least one of these stories. Even if you've never made a bed with hospital corners, you probably have one area where you strive for success at all costs.

The second section reminds us that because of Christ, it is finished. Yes, Jesus death and resurrection is our only hope of escaping God's wrath, but it also saves of from finding our worth in earthly things. We must "preach the gospel to ourselves every day." If we're really doing this, every area of our lives will be changed. That doesn't mean our lives will be easy, but we can rest from striving to justify ourselves by what we do.

Baker does this by focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Jesus words to "be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect." I enjoyed this focus on Christ's perfection—his finished work that frees us. Perfection is, at its root "a heart that fears suffering"(page 70). But when we trust in Christ, we have nothing to fear.

We begin to see perfection both as a gift that Christ has purchased for us and as a process of growing in Christlikeness. Once a source of stress or despair, perfection becomes a wonderful goal. Because of the gift we've received, we want to live a life of love (Ephesians 5:2) because that's what our Savior did (page 68).

The third section focuses on application. Baker zeroes in on things perfectionists tend to struggle with, such as fear, pride, shame, and busyness.

This is an important subject, and I believe it's something we need to be addressing more often. Sometimes, though, we go too far. In our effort to communicate the sin of perfectionism, we might inadvertently leave people with the message to quit trying. This is not, of course, the purpose of God's grace (Romans 6:1). It's a fine line to walk, but Baker does it well. We should still work as if to God (Colossians 3:32), but not as a way to secure what Christ has already secured for us.

I appreciate this book. I recommend it to anyone who struggles with perfectionism. And even if you don't think you struggle with perfectionism, this book will probably reveal to you ways that you do.

Thanks to the generosity of New Growth Press, I have an extra copy to give away. Please enter your name and email in the form below. I promise your email will remain private and we won't spam you. The winner will be drawn on Thursday, July 17, and the winner will be notified by email.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This review reflects my honest opinion.