Friday, August 29, 2014

What's the point?

In a week or so I will begin teaching a new unit of Bible study. I'm not sure exactly how many studies I've facilitated and/or taught but I am entering what I think is my sixteenth year of sitting in the teacher's chair so, yeah, you could say I've been around the block a time or two.

I now begin nearly every unit of teaching with a lesson focused on the why's and wherefore's of Bible study: why are we here? What are we doing? What are our goals and how do we propose to accomplish them? What makes what we do important?

I think it's critical that we identify the reason we engage in a particular activity, especially given that for most of us time is a precious commodity and we want and need to use it well. Not only that but casting a vision and setting goals clarify the activity's purpose and serve as a reminder of its relative importance, not just in terms of Bible study but in any task we undertake.

So as I endeavor to offer to my fellow Bible students a vision of our motivations and goals for Bible study, I am indebted to Kathleen Nielson and her book Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word. I had the opportunity to meet Kathleen at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference in July. I was glad for the opportunity to share with her that this is what I do at the start of each study I teach and I thanked her for helping me succinctly encapsulate what our group strives to be about.

So what are our motivations and goals for the study of God's Word? Here in abbreviated form, with props to Kathleen, is a portion of the vision I will set forth in my Bible study group next week. These goals are framed in terms of truths about the Bible:

The Bible is God speaking therefore Bible study is personal! Our goal then is to know God by hearing Him speak through His Word. Also because the Bible is God speaking, it is authoritative and our goal is to submit to it as authority in our lives. 
The Bible is powerful. It is able to make us wise for salvation, it exposes and judges and convicts, it accomplishes the Lord's purposes. Therefore it is a sufficient Word! It is enough! Thus the Bible will be our primary focus and our main text. 
The Bible is understandable. Therefore we will devote ourselves to seeking and searching and engaging ourselves in the diligent and careful study of God's Word, confident that the Spirit will teach us and grant us understanding. 
The Bible is one story so we will study each passage in context with an effort to discern the author's original intent. We will also seek to understand each passage in terms of this single redemptive storyline of the Bible. We will not immediately seek direct application to our lives but we will first ask what we learn about God and Jesus and the gospel.

To keep it real, I have to tell you that setting forth a vision for Bible study was not an idea that had occurred to me right from the start. It actually began out of an offense.

Years ago I taught a community Bible study much as I do now but on Monday nights. One such Monday evening I was preparing to leave my son's basketball game a little early to make it to Bible study in a timely manner. Seeing me about to leave, one of the parents of a player on my son's team asked where I was going. After I told them about our community Bible study group this individual asked me in all honesty and--to give full benefit of the doubt--without snark: what's the point?

"What's the point?!!?!" I fumed later, to myself and probably to my husband, though I'm sure I offered some nice, nonsensical answer at the time invoking something about Jesus and women and the Bible. Truth be told, I was deeply offended to have my motives so questioned. However, after I recovered from my initial anger, I saw the question's validity. In fact, it has rung in mind ever since though I am quite certain the person asking it had no idea of the lingering influence it would have.

What is the point? Do we have a point?

Yes, friends, we do. In our study we hold the Bible to be God's spoken Word, powerful, understandable, the full revelation of Himself through history, the story of the redemption of a people for His own glory through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. We want to know this living Word so that we may know the God it reveals. We want to know God and know His Son and we want to love Him more and we want others to know Him and love Him.

This is our goal. This is our motivation. Yes, Lord, by Your mercy may it be so.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Gospel for Square Pegs

I've often felt like a square peg in a round hole, somewhat of an outsider when it comes to the crowd, and I accept this fact. But what about the family of God? I would like to say there is no fear and total freedom, but sometimes I can't shake off my square-peggishness.

Having experienced past rejection, defense is the default. So the shield automatically activates and gets set on withdrawal mode. In conversations, I won't lie, but I may selectively edit what I say in an effort to force myself into the roundness of the hole. But more often than not, my perception of the "hole" is a product of my imagination. I am so afraid of being misjudged that I end up wrongly judging my brothers and sisters by bracing myself for a negative response when there is none. In the end, it's difficult to be built up in love when you hold yourself at arm's length, and I have been the loser for it.

But in reality we're all square pegs when Jesus is the standard. Try and reach that benchmark if you can. But God in His mercy takes people who have been warped and broken by sin and makes them new creations  (2 Cor. 5:17). He takes outcasts and adopts them as beloved children (Eph 1:4-5). We were all misfits but God has made us fit and united us in Christ (Eph 2:11-22). 

The gospel is not just a message of reconciliation with God, but it also heralds the reconciliation of all believers to one another in Christ. Through the death of Christ, God has brought peace where there was once hostility, and He has broken down the racial, economic, and social barriers that once divided us outside of Christ.
Also when God saved us, He made us members of His household, and He gave us as gifts to one another. Each brother and sister is a portion of my gospel inheritance, and I am a portion of their inheritance as well. We are significant players in each other's gospel narrative, and it is in relationship with one another that we experience the fullness of God in Christ.
Hence, the more I comprehend the full scope of the gospel, the more I value the church for which Christ died, the more I value the role that I play in the lives of my fellow Christians, and the more I appreciate the role that they must be allowed to play in mine.1

This is gospel rubber that I need to apply and reapply to fellowship road. How about you?

                                                                                                                                                      
1. A Gospel Primer for Christians, Milton Vincent, Focus Publishing, 2008, pg. 23-24.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Picture an Ordinary Life

During the time between my grandmother's passing and her funeral, the four granddaughters sifted through photos to put together a memorial collage. Looking at those pictures, many of which I'd never seen, was like walking through my grandparents' life together. As we narrowed them down to create a collage that adequately captured my grandmother's spirit, one in particular jumped out at me.  I couldn't stop staring at it.

There was my grandmother in her mid-twenties, looking as glamorous as a Hollywood starlet in her dress, scarf and sunglasses. Even though she was stunning, what captivated me about the photo was how unpretentious it was.

As I kept looking through photographs, I realized several truths:

The best picture tells a story. 
Every picture I found told the story of my grandmother - a woman who loved her children, a wife who quietly tolerated (and secretly enjoyed) her husband's silliness, a woman who loved to paint ceramics, a sister who was also a best friend. The majority of photographs I see today are quite different - our meals, our homes, our projects. They, too, are telling a story. Is it one worth telling?

The best picture is a true representation of its subject.
In this photograph, my grandmother wasn't trying to look like a beautiful woman having the time of her life. She was simply riding in a boat and most likely turned around to keep the wind out of her face. She didn't select select her attire because she knew someone would be taking her picture. She didn't assume the perfect pose or choose just the right time to smile for the camera. 

In August 2002, Jamie Leigh Curtis was brave enough to allow a magazine to publish photographs of her that were not retouched. A dozen years later, we are still naive enough to believe that Hollywood images are real. Not only do we believe it; we have surrendered to the pressure. How many of us are willing to post unflattering photos of ourselves, our families or our homes on social media? Luckily, we don't have to. Technology allows us to edit and filter our photos to our hearts' content.  Despite all of our talk about being genuine and authentic, we've gone to great lengths to convince others that we live the lives depicted in our perfect photographs and social media posts.

The best picture is a treasure.
As you might imagine, we didn't find a multitude of pictures from Grandma's youth.  Photographs were rare in those days, but I also believe people were more discerning. Not everything was considered significant enough to be documented for posterity; there was far too much work to be done for that. Now we take pictures with our phones. We never have to miss a chance to snap that perfect shot. I wonder, are we so preoccupied with capturing the moment that we miss making the memory? Have we become so accustomed to life behind the lens that we miss the beauty in front of our eyes? Has the sheer abundance of images in our lives cheapened their value?

The best picture points to something other than the photographer.
We didn't find one selfie of my grandmother. Each picture was taken by someone else wanting to call attention to her. We live in age where much of what we do screams Look at me! We are the stars of our own videos and photographs, our social media feeds, and our lives. I don't even have to turn my phone backward to take a photograph of myself; I simply hit a button and the camera rotates to me. The glaring truth of our narcissistic culture.

My fellow blogger Kim is a gifted photographer.  She has an eye for finding beauty in the ordinary. That's a rare gift these days, even among Christians. We've forgotten the value of an ordinary life. We aren't the first. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was blinded by her desire to be like God. She was surrounded by the beauty and gifts of the Lord, yet being an ordinary woman was not enough for her. Sound familiar?

I'm tired of believing the trick photography of our enemy. I want to rediscover the value of a life that isn't picture perfect. I want a life that proclaims the beauty of the ordinary. I want a life that doesn't call attention to me. I want a life that tells the story of an extraordinary God and the treasure of His gospel.
Ordinary does not mean mediocre. Athletes, architects, humanitarians, and artists can vouch for the importance of everyday faithfulness to mundane tasks that lead to excellence. But if we are not headliners in our various callings, it is enough to know that we are called there by God to maintain a faithful presence in His world.
- Michael Horton
Tabletalk, August 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jesus Is Risen

And we are raised with him
According to the historical record of the New Testament, after Jesus died, he rose again. The risen Jesus appears in the four gospels and Acts, and all of the epistles assume that Christ is alive. The New Testament Christians based their hope on the fact that Jesus who died for their sins had also been raised from the dead. As Paul writes,
. . .if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . [I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17 ESV)
Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no Christianity at all. While Jesus's death lies at the heart of his saving work, his death wouldn't be effective without his subsequent work of resurrection.

And the resurrection really is the work of the Son. Although the Son shared this work with the other members of the Trinity (see Acts 2:24 and Romans 8:11), he also raised himself by his own power. "I lay down my life," he said, "that I may take it up again. . . . I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

The resurrection of Jesus was not a return to the kind of life he had before he died, but a whole re-creation of his human life. His original humanity, which was subject to weakness and death, was transformed into a new kind of incorruptible humanity with no possibility of weakness or death. He arose in a glorified body, perfectly suited to live forever in heaven, where he is living right now in the same glorified body.

The Resurrection Saves

Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no salvation. For one, the resurrection is proof that Jesus's death worked exactly as intended. If the reason Jesus died was to pay the penalty for our sin on our behalf, once the penalty was completely paid, how could he remain dead? No more penalty, no more death, right? I suspect this is what Paul means when he says Christ was "raised for our justification "(Romans 4:24). Jesus is risen, so we know we are no longer under penalty of death for our sins; Jesus is risen, so we can be forgiven.

And what better way to demonstrate the victory over death accomplished through the death of Jesus than his resurrection from the dead?

The Resurrection of Jesus and The Believer's Future Resurrection

What's more, just as believers are united with Christ in his death, they are also united with him in his resurrection, and there are saving benefits that come to them from this. First, that we have been united to Christ in his resurrection assures us that we too will rise again:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 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. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV)
Christ’s present resurrected life is a promise that those who believe will be brought with him into the same kind of resurrected life when he returns. Christ’s resurrection included the resurrection of his body and so will ours. Christ's resurrection body is imperishable and our will be, too (1 Corinthians 15: 42-49). We will be raised with glorified bodies to live forever with the One who includes us with him in his resurrection. This is the believer's future hope.

The Resurrection of Jesus and the Believer's New Life Now

Second, the resurrected life that comes into completeness at the believer's glorification already exists within us. We have been made alive together with Christ and a new sort of life has begun—a recreated life:
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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5 ESV)
Our new life is grounded in our association with Jesus's resurrection. Even now, we have begun our lives in the realm of the resurrection and sin no longer has dominion over us. Our changed lives come to us because we have been united with the risen Jesus. This is another of the saving benefits of the resurrection.

Based on our new reality, believers are called to live a new kind of life.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . . (Colossians 3:1-5a ESV)
Paul urges us to put aside the things we once loved as the old kind of people we used to be. We are living new lives with resurrection power over sin, so we are called to have new loves and new passions—to seek heavenly things. We can do this knowing that there is no reason for sin to defeat us as we work out the victory over sin that has already become reality in Christ's resurrection, a victory that will come to its consummation when we are raised with him when he comes again.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about the resurrection of Jesus.
  1. Read the biblical accounts of the resurrection found in Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24, and John 20. 
  2. Study 1 Corinthians 15, which contains more teaching on the resurrection, both Christ's resurrection and the believer's resurrection, than any other chapter in the Bible, and Colossians 3:1-17 on living the new life as one who has been raised with Christ.
  3. Read up on the resurrection of Christ in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 28 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. You can read the section on Christ's state of exaltation from Berkhof's Systematic Theology online.
  4. Listen to Wayne Grudem teaching on the resurrection: The Resurrection, Part 1; The Resurrection, Part 2.


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
  9. The Son Came
  10. Jesus Lived and Died

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Unpacking Pride

I've been reading Chris Brauns's book Unpacking ForgivenessAfter reading and loving his book Bound Together (which I heartily recommend), I bought this one, but only recently opened it up. I'm glad I did.

Forgiveness. It's essential to our life in Christ. His forgiveness gives us new life. There is no redemption without forgiveness. And yet, we struggle with this area, despite knowing how much we ourselves have been forgiven.

So far, the chapter "The Way Up is Down," which talks about humility, has been the chapter I've thought about the most. We cannot approach someone to ask forgiveness or be able to extend forgiveness without it. This means fighting our pride.

Brauns points out that pride manifests itself in subtle ways:
Pride is not limited to arrogance or cockiness; it is not just an inflated opinion of oneself. Pride is any way of putting self into the central focus. This distinction is critical because if we understand it, we can identify more subtle, more insidious kinds of pride.
Brauns suggests some more subtle ways of demonstrating pride:
  • being overly critical
  • insecurity
  • being overly sensitive
  • being impatient with the shortcoming of others
  • presuming upon others
  • being easily embarrassed
  • being given to worry
Compared to being arrogant and cocky, those may not immediately seem like pride, but there is an element of self-focus in all of them.

Identifying our pride means examining our hearts and our motives. It means being willing to admit we offend others and are on occasion too easily offended ourselves. We have to examine ourselves closely, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. There are times when we are oblivious to how we come across.

Sometimes, the best way to identify pride in ourselves is to look carefully at how we react to it in others. I have found that on occasion, the things I find most objectionable in others is actually something I do myself. Do I get impatient with complainers? Well, take a look in the mirror, self; you do it, too. When we react strongly to someone, I think it's even more crucial that we ask ourselves why we react that way.

The perfect example of humility was, of course, Christ. In Philippians 2:5-11, we have that beautiful passage where Paul describes Christ's humility, how he emptied himself, how he gave up what was due him. How often do we empty ourselves, and put aside our perceived "rights?"

I struggle with demonstrating humility, but I know what it looks like. All I need to do is look to the cross. This is why knowing God is so crucial; we cannot model what we do not know. Forgiveness is not negotiable in the Christian life, and neither is humility. I don't know how we can have one without the other.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ways We're the Same (Or, What Not to Do in an Awkward Social Situation)

A while back I went to a meeting. A woman I had never seen before was standing alone, so I went and introduced myself. After we had chatted a bit, she confessed that she was worried about the meeting, because it was clear that the other women there were “not her type.” She then went on to list the reasons why she was different—and superior—to the other women present.

The problem? Those women were my friends. She didn’t know that, of course. But because one of them was blessed with good looks and a bubbly personality, and another was uncharacteristically preoccupied with her phone—for a very good reason—the woman had made her judgment and pronounced them inferior.

I wish I could say I had words of peace and reconciliation. I wish I could say I looked beyond the woman’s obvious hurt and fear and sought to build a bridge. But no. As soon as someone else started talking to her, I hastily retreated to the alleged bubbleheads across the room. Even worse, I was still distracted when the meeting began. I kept imagining what I could say to make her see how wrong she had been.

It was several hours before I realized that I was just as guilty as she. Yes, she had wrongly judged my friends—but I in turn had wrongly judged her. She didn’t form those opinions in a vacuum. I could have used the time discovering what we had in common, rather than dwelling on the ways I thought she was wrong.

We've All Been Hurt Before


We can all remember a time when we were excluded and rejected. For some the wounds came early on. For others the wounds are fresh. Maybe it’s a mixture of old and new scars, but we all have them. We are all sinners, and we’ve all been sinned against. No one will leave this world without a few bruises.

We All Want to Be Understood


Behind the woman’s insistence that she was different was the desire to be understood. She wanted me to see that her priorities were a conscious choice. They were also more similar to my friends’ choices than she realized, but she didn’t know that. I’m sure she's encountered people who don’t know what to make of her. She wanted me to know that she was basically good with who she was, even if she was sometimes excluded because of it.

We All Are Prideful


The woman’s pride compelled her to judge others. My pride caused me to retreat in hurt and anger—and do a little judging of my own. It caused me to sit and fume rather than reach out.

We All Need Jesus


I have no hope apart from God’s grace. I am also pretty hopeless without him.

Paul was probably the most unlikely person to take the gospel to the Gentiles, but God used him mightily. For one thing, he was willing to be all things to all people.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19–23).
And then there’s me, who was unwilling to endure an awkward social situation.

I dropped the ball that day. I’m sure to do it again. I missed a chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus. But in spite of my foibles and mistakes, God still loves me, and his grace covers me.

I like to believe I’m beyond all that high school stuff, but that incident reminded me how quickly I can retreat when things get uncomfortable. I’m not as selfless and fearless as I think I am. I need God’s grace and mercy every second of the day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Life Between the Lines

One week ago today, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to my grandmother. We celebrated her 92 years of living with laughter and tears. She possessed equal amounts of sass and class, and I was honored to be her granddaughter.

By most standards, my grandparents lived an ordinary life. He was a farmer; she, a homemaker. After his father passed away and an older brother was struck with a debilitating illness, he dropped out of school in the 8th grade to assume the responsibilities of the family farm. They married not long after her high school graduation, and my dad was born a year later. He was stationed in Japan during World War II, leaving his young wife with a toddler, and a newborn. In the years following his return home, two more children were born. Together, they loved the Lord and served His church faithfully. They set an example for their four children, eight grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren, as well as our spouses and their small community.  They were the kind of people I aspire to be.

My grandparents never focused on being missional; they helped when they saw someone in need.

They didn't have great theological debates; they read their Bibles and discussed their Sunday School lessons.

They didn't concern themselves with engaging people; they struck up conversations because they enjoyed getting to know others.

They didn't share their private lives in order to appear authentic; they respected and protected each other and their family.

They didn't talk about Biblical manhood and womanhood; he plowed the fields and brought three sons alongside him as soon as they could manage the work, while she kept the home and trained their daughter to do the same.

When either of them used the words radical, relevant, or journey, they certainly weren't talking about their faith.

Even though it's been nearly 15 years since my grandfather died, I haven't forgotten the text his pastor chose for the funeral.  That cold February day, he read 2 Samuel 3:31-39 and shared how his heart was full with David's lament, "Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day..."  I dare say most, if not all, people who knew my grandfather felt the same.

Last week, the pastor selected 2 Timothy 4:6-8 to remember my grandmother. He shared how she was an encouragement to him, a young pastor, even when she was unable to attend church. They would talk about the Sunday School lesson during his visits, and she exhorted him to remember his calling. Indeed, my grandmother fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.

My grandparents weren't in full-time ministry. They didn't seek public platforms or look to do "big things for God." They simply lived out each day according to Psalm 16:5-6:
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
There is much talk these days about living the extraordinary life. Somewhere along the way we've forgotten that while God is extraordinary, we are extremely ordinary. We've forgotten than when we grumble about our ordinary lives, we grumble against the God who sovereingly placed the lines around us. We've forgotten that what lies between those lines is a gift from the Lord and we are called to be good stewards of it. My grandparents understood this truth, and that is is the greatest legacy they could have left for me.

*****
Every Christian is an ordinary Christian, and every ordinary Christian is a radical Christian. The ordinary Christian is not a complacent, passionless, nominal, or casual Christian. On the contrary, every ordinary Christian person—child, teenager, college student, father, mother, husband, wife, single man, single woman, retired man, and retired woman—every Christian is radical because every Christian is united to Christ by faith and will bear radical, life-giving fruit. - Burk Parsons (source)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jesus Lived and Died

Peace by the blood of his cross
Have you noticed that the truths in this series of posts on things every Christian woman should know1 are telling a story? It's a big story—the biggest story ever—the true story of God and his work in the history of his creation. Like all good stories, this true story has a problem that must be solved, and it's only right that a big story has a big problem—the biggest ever—a problem only God can solve.

The Problem of Sin

You probably remember what the problem is. It all started with human sin: We are all alienated from God because of our sin—and the alienation is mutual. Because we are sinful, we are, by nature, "hostile to God" (Romans 8:7; see also Colossians 1:21); and God, by nature, hates our sin.

It's God's side of this two-way alienation that is the focus of this post. (We'll deal with the solution to our side of the alienation problem later.) God's justice requires that he execute judgment against sin. All sinners are rightly condemned to eternal death, or to use other language from scripture, sinners are under "God's wrath," which is his perfectly righteous response to unrighteousness.

Our situation is grim, and there's nothing we can do about it. We can't fix the problem. Thankfully the story doesn't end here (although had God chosen to simply leave all sinners under his wrath, he could could have). Instead of executing justice against all humanity, our merciful God made a plan to save sinners from his own wrath.

The Problem of Mercy

Saving sinners from his just judgment required a plan of action because God can't simply ignore sin. Bruce Ware calls this "the problem of mercy":
[H]ow can a holy, just, and righteous God show mercy . . . to sinners who deserve the judgment that he, as God, is obligated to execute? . . . He cannot pretend they're not guilty. As God, he must exercise justice, and to fail to do so would be to fail to be God!2
In the previous post in this series, we began discussing the Son's role in the solution to the problems of sin and mercy. To save sinful people, it was first necessary for the eternal Son to become a human being. Then the Son had to live a human life and die a human death. And this is exactly what Jesus, who was (and is) true eternal Son and true man, did.

His Saving Death

Christians call the work Jesus did in both his life and death to earn salvation for his people the atonement. The New Testament presents the work of atonement Jesus accomplished when he died on the cross for sinners in several ways: It was sacrifice, redemption, reconciliation, and more. These word pictures are different ways to see this one complex work of God. Here, I've chosen to look through the lens of reconciliation, but you can use the resources listed below to learn more about other ways to view the atoning work of Jesus.

Reconciliation

In Jesus's work of reconciliation, God took the initiative to make peace with sinners. Because of human sin, God and humankind are, in a sense, at war with each other. God sent his Son to reconcile these two estranged parties, God himself on one side and sinners on the other. Christ came to make "peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).

Christ's blood brings peace by shielding sinners from God's righteous response to their unrighteousness. His death accomplished reconciliation by turning away, or propitiating, God's wrath toward sin, so that God can be for sinners rather than against them.

Penal Substitution

The death of Jesus propitiates God's wrath because it is a penal substitution. In his death, Jesus represented his people, enduring the penalty of death that is the just expression of God's wrath against their sin. He stood in their place and bore God's wrath on their behalf. In Christ, God did not count his people's sins against them, but counted them to the sinless Christ instead (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). On the cross, Jesus substituted for us and our sins were counted as his so that he could endure the penalty for our sin in our place. This is where the term penal substitution came from: penal for penalty, and substitution for in our place.

That Jesus endured the wrath of God against our sin on our behalf is the reason we can be pardoned. Or to put it another way, propitiation through penal substitution is the basis for our forgiveness. You might say that Jesus, in his death, earns our forgiveness.

His Saving Life

And there's more. God's plan for the Son's role in our salvation included not only his representative death, but also his representative life. Jesus earned our forgiveness by his death and he earned a record of perfect obedience for us by his life. A forgiven sinner has a righteousness "not [their] own . . . but . . . which comes through faith in Christ" (Philippians 3:9). Believers have a positive moral record achieved by Jesus in his perfectly obedient life lived on their behalf.

Jesus's death takes away the wrath of God that our sin brought upon us, and his perfectly obedient life earns eternal life for us. This two-sided work of God—forgiving our sin based on Christ's substitutionary death, and declaring us righteous based on Christ's obedient life—is called justification.

There is much more to be said about Jesus's saving life and death. They are the centerpiece of God's plan for his creation, the heart of the gospel, the sinner's only hope, and the subject of the song of the redeemed throughout eternity:
And they sang a new song, saying, 
“Worthy are you . . .
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation . . . .

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:9, 12)
And here I am, trying to package it in a blog post!

Learn More


Here are a few ways to learn more about the saving work of Jesus.
  1. Study Romans 3:23-26, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 2:13-15, Hebrews 2:14-18, and Hebrews 9 and 10.
  2. Read up on the atonement or the work of Christ in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 27 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. And online from Berkhof'sSystematic Theology: The Cause and Necessity of the Atonement; The Nature of the Atonement; The Purpose and Extent of the Atonement.
  3. Read The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris, The Cross of Christ by John Stott or Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, especially the section on the accomplishment of redemption. Or any of the book recommended in this post.
  4. Listen to the teaching series The Atonement of Jesus by R. C. Sproul.
[1] See below for a list of previous posts.
[2] Bruce Ware, Big Truths for Young Hearts, page 128.

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
  9. The Son Came

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Make His Deeds Known Among the People

Reading the Psalms, one cannot help but see that God wants us to know and remember our history. A good example of this is Psalm 105. The psalmist opens with the exhortation: "Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the people!" and then proceeds to give an account of God's faithfulness to the children of Israel. He ends the Psalm with the words "Praise the Lord!" One of the most important reasons for knowing our history is to generate praise to God. Just as God wanted the Israelites to know their history, He wants us to know ours.

I love history in general, and church history especially. I would like to share some church history resources that I have found useful and enjoyable. This is only a very small offering of what is available. If you have your own favourites, please share them in the comments.

For an overview, I like Justo Gonzales's two volumes, The Story of Christianity. The first volume covers from the death of Christ to the Reformation, and the second volume from the Reformation to current times. Covenant Theological Seminary has a series of lectures which use Gonzalez's books as a text. You can listen for free.

Mark Noll's, Turning Points in Church History is a also a general overview, but focuses on some of the major events in the history of the Church, like the Council of Nicea,  the Council at Chalcedon, and the coming of Christianity to the West. Noll also has lots of recommended resources for further study. Footnotes are excellent sources for further reading.

For your listening pleasure, Sermon Audio has a series of  Michael Haykin's sermons on Church History. I have made my way through many of them, and hope to hear them all. I had the good fortune to hear Dr. Haykin at a conference a few years ago, and he is very interesting to listen to. Two of his books which focus on the church fathers are Rediscovering the Church Fathers and Patrick of Ireland.

Eusebius: The Church History, translated by Paul Maier. I am reading this at the moment, and really enjoying it. Recently, I read a passage where he explained why we need four gospels. Seems like that's been something we've been asking for a long time. Eusebius is chronologically close to the events of Christ's life, and while he does get some things wrong, he provides a lot of compelling reading. His accounts of the martyrdom of the early saints are especially good, since he's frequently quoting those who actually saw them happen.

Iain Murray is one of my favourite writers. His two volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones are two of my favourite books. H has also written biographies of Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards as well. His Evangelicalism Divided and Revival and Revivalism were also excellent reads and look at specific time periods in church history.

If you're looking for something to introduce you to the Puritans, don't miss reading J.I. Packer's A Quest for Godliness. I have heard good things about Meet the Puritans, but have not read it myself.

Speaking of biographies,  Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton, the story of Martin Luther is a really good book. One book I would like to acquire is a good biography of John Calvin. Perhaps someone can recommend one in the comments.

Simonetta Carr has church history books for children that are illustrated beautifully. Buy them for your children and grandchildren and read them yourself. She also recently wrote an excellent biography of Renee of France, which I was fortunate enough to review.

As I said, this is just a very small sampling. If history is your pleasure, then there is a wide variety of church history out there to read. Church reminds us of God's faithfulness in the history of redemption. It's encouraging and humbling. And it's just plain good reading!

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Closed Door

A while back, I attempted something, but the proverbial door was shut. I don’t mean it closed with a gentle click. I mean it slammed so hard the walls rattled. It’s purported that in times like this God opens windows, but they appear to be painted shut.

As I reflected on it, a phrase from days gone by came to mind. Did I “get ahead of God”?

To be fair, some people use that phrase to communicate biblical ideas. They simply mean we act out of fear rather than faith (Romans 14:23b), in a futile attempt to somehow manipulate God. But for me, that phrase carries a lot of baggage that is best left behind.

Thanks to some of the false teachers who clog Christian radio, I heard a lot of bad teaching as a young adult. And a lot of those teachers talked a lot about discerning God’s will. They said I was supposed to be looking for signs and impressions. Not about sin (which is always wrong), but about morally neutral things. God had a plan, and I needed to figure it out, otherwise I would apparently be outside his will. Something as simple as failing to discern where one should go on vacation could apparently set off a myriad of missed connections, and God would be wringing his hands, thinking of all the good things he had in store for me that I missed, all because I misread the signs.

This is dangerous thinking. Just like the prosperity preacher who claims God rewards good deeds with wealth, this idea implies that God rewards good “sign reading” with easy circumstances. Did you go to the beach when God wanted you to go to the mountains? Well then, expect to be rained on every day and sprain your ankle on your way back to the condo.

The Bible teaches otherwise. John 9:1–3, Genesis 37–50, and the book of Job (not to mention the cross) all indicate that God is working even when things look quite grim from here.

I appreciate John MacArthur’s booklet Found: God’s Will  [1]. God’s will is actually simple. He wants us to be saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering [2]. Yes, that’s right, suffering. That doesn’t mean you’re more holy if you never break a smile. But in a world hostile to the message of the gospel (1Corinthians 1:18), we will face opposition (1 Peter 3:13–18).

But if you're doing all these things? If you're saved, following God, and submissive to those placed over you?
If those five elements of God’s will are operating in your life, who is running your wants? God is! The psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). God does not say He will fulfill all the desires there! If you are living a godly life, He will give you the right desires. [3]
It’s good to ask God for the things we think we need, but we need to remember that what he eventually gives us is what we need. I tried something, but it didn’t work out. It was not sinful—it was a good thing. And for now, the door is closed. If it never comes to pass, it won’t be because I got in the way of God’s plans. He just has a different plan for me.




[1] Another book that covers similar ground is Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung.
[2] John MacArthur, Found: God’s Will (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook), 68.
[3] Ibid, 68.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Dead Poets Society, carpe diem, and the story of my life

When I was in college, and for several years after, my favorite movie was Dead Poets Society. The story of John Keating and his students inspired me; carpe diem became my mantra. I was impassioned. I was determined. I was going to live a life that counted.

However, I was also clueless.

I wonder now, these 25 years later, if the 20 year old me with all her bright eyed idealism had been given a snapshot of her life as it would be at 45, what would she think? Would she consider her life lived to the fullest? If she saw herself on a hot day in July, for example, running errands and doing laundry and sweeping up dog hair, would she trust that she had indeed seized the day and lived a life thus far that counted?

I like to think she would, you know, being that I am that 45 year old me of which we speak. I mean, being a mom is the most important job I can do, right? And I volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center one day a week and we do good work, important work, kingdom work. And I teach women’s Bible study which certainly is not a waste of time or potential, is it? This is a full life I lead, an important life, a life that counts, right?

Sometimes I am not so sure.

I recently read Death by Living by N.D. Wilson. As I read I thought often of my younger self and her infatuation with Dead Poets Society and its invitation to carpe diem. In Death by Living, Wilson offers a similar plea to make the most of this life as we only live once then we die. Throughout the book he intertwines the stories of the lives of his grandparents and the story of his own life, who they were affecting who he is. Who will you be, he asks the reader. What story will your life tell?

As I ponder Wilson’s questions I feel much as I felt as that twenty year old sitting in the darkened theater all those years ago: inspired but clueless. What does it mean for me, for my life, to live with death as my reality? How do I make this life count? This life, here, today, this normal, white bread, middle class, ordinary, nay, even boring, life. Is there more? Is this enough? What will be the story of my life?

My pastor recently preached from Matthew 10:24-30. He too encouraged us to live a life that counted, a life free from fear. Trust in the sovereignty of God, he exhorted us, He sees the sparrows and we are of more value than they! What are we preserving our lives for? Why not pour it all out in glad risk for our Savior who loves us?

Again I wondered what this means for me and my life. Are the only courageous Christians serving as missionaries in the Middle East or dying as martyrs in the Sudan? Can a stay at home soccer mom seize the day and live boldly, daring to give all for her Savior?

I think yes and I don’t say so just because I am that stay at home soccer mom asking the questions. Sure, the Lord calls some of us to sell all and go. Maybe He is calling you to do just that. Or me.

But I think He also calls some of us to the radical and risky place of living like Jesus is real in the midst of a culture that has no need of Him what with its materialism and consumerism, its wealth and affluence, its arrogant intellectualism and laissez-faire tolerance. Here He calls us to boldly proclaim that there is something, Someone, infinitely better than, say, football or a new pair of shoes. Dare we? Dare I?

The post in its original draft ended here but I can’t help a postscript. Some of you know my friend died this week. From the moment of her diagnosis a mere four months ago she and her husband determined to humbly accept whatever the Lord granted. Even in her suffering she boldly proclaimed the true life, the better life, that is found in Christ. This audacious belief framed the story of her too-short life: Jesus is real, Jesus her only hope.

My friend knew something better, Someone better, awaited her beyond this life and she trusted Him with her life and in her death. And the life she now lives, she lives whole and full and free for all eternity with the One who loved her and saved her, to the praise of His glorious grace.

This is the life that counts.

Jesus is real. Jesus is better. Carpe diem. Sola Deo gloria.