Monday, December 30, 2013

Jesus Died for ... You?

Over the last few years, I've held to an understanding of the atonement of Christ known as "sufficient for all, efficient for some." In other words, my answer to the question, "Did Jesus die for every human being or only those who God chose for salvation before the foundation of the world?" is "Yes."

Yes, Scripture teaches that Jesus died for the elect in such a way that not only makes our salvation possible, but secures it.

But I believe Scripture also teaches that Jesus died for every human being in such a way that makes salvation possible for every human being (e.g. Hebrews 2:9).  Therefore, we really can tell non-believers, "Jesus died for you", and mean it with all our hearts.  Even though many people will reject Jesus all the way to hell, it's as though He hung on the cross with arms wide open, offering Himself to any who would turn to Him and inviting any who would come.   And it's this rejection of the greatest possible gift that was fully paid for and freely offered to all that will make God's enemies most worthy of final judgment.

While discussing this with a friend of mine, he asked me "Does anyone in the Bible tell an unbeliever that 'Jesus died for them'?"  And that question really got me to thinking.

The one place in the New Testament where we have sermons recorded which were being addressed primarily, if not exclusively, to non-believers is the book of Acts.  So I began to read the book of Acts with that question in mind.

I didn't expect what I would find when I got to chapter 3.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
Acts 3:17-21 (
emphasis added)
Notice a couple things here.

First, Peter mentions that God foretold by the mouth of the prophets that Jesus would suffer and He fulfilled it (verse 18). He's most likely referring to passages like Isaiah 53. But, even if not, the point he's making is that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God fulfilled what He had spoken by the mouth of the prophets.

Second, notice that Peter says that this Christ is appointed for "you" (verse 20).  You? That can only mean his non-believing hearers. Appointed? Christ is just another word for Messiah, which was an office that Jesus fulfilled. And all throughout the whole Old Testament the main role of Messiah was to save His people from their sins through His life, death, and resurrection.

In other words, Peter is saying to his non-believing hearers, "Jesus is the one who was appointed to suffer on the cross and rise from the dead for you and thus save you from your sins".  And Acts 4:4 tells us that many--not all--who heard this message believed.  There were some who heard Peter say "Christ was appointed to suffer for you" who walked away and did not believe.

When we tell a non-believer "Jesus died for you", is that not to do the same thing Peter did when he told his non-believing hearers that Christ was appointed to suffer for them?

One could argue that Jesus was appointed for the nation of Israel as a corporate whole, but not for every individual within the nation.  True.  But that doesn't change the fact that there were some individuals within that group who heard Peter who were a part of the nation of Israel and yet didn't believe.  If we hold that Jesus was appointed to die for the nation of Israel as a corporate whole, then using John 3:16 for example, we could also say that Jesus was sent to die for the world as a corporate whole, even though we know that many people in the world will never believe in Him.  And in the same way that Peter could tell his hearers who identified with corporate Israel that Christ was appointed for them even though many would still persist in unbelief, today we can tell our hearers who identify with the world that Jesus died for them even though many will still persist in unbelief.

I can't improve upon the way D.A. Carson summarizes this biblical conviction concerning the atonement:
I argue, then, that both Arminians and Calvinists should rightly affirm that Christ died for all, in the sense that Christ's death was sufficient for all and that Scripture portrays God as inviting, commanding, and desiring the salvation of all, out of love. Further, all Christians ought also to confess that, in a slightly different sense, Christ Jesus, in the intent of God, died effectively for the elect alone, in line with the way the Bible speaks of God's special selecting love for the elect.

--D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
For further study on this position of the atonement--including key biblical texts to wrestle with--consider Bruce Ware's essay outline on the atonement arguing for what he calls the "Multiple Intentions" view.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Christian's Calling: A Life of Unfair Treatment

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:18-23
Addressing the believers he's writing to, Peter begins verse 21 with the words "For to this you have been called." It's important for us to understand exactly what Peter is saying because he's describing not just what his 1st century readers were called to, but what all Christians are called to--by necessity.

So what is the this that Christians have been called to?

The preposition "for" that begins verse 21 functions as a ground for why Peter has written what he has just written in the previous verses.  And what is the essential exhortation of the previous verses?
Verse 18: Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.
The main exhortation here isn't simply for servants to be subject to masters in general, but for servants to respond well to masters who treat them unfairly.  How do we know that how we respond in the midst of unfair treatment is the main thrust of Peter's exhortation?  Because everything he writes after verse 18 highlights the context of being treated unfairly.
Verse 19: For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly (unfair treatment).
Verse 20:  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it (fair treatment), you endure?  But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure (unfair treatment), this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
And then, finally, Peter points us to the ultimate example--indeed the only example--of One who responded well to unfair treatment.
Verses 21-23:  For to this you have been called (responding well when treated unfairly), because Christ also suffered for you (was treated unfairly by men), leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (of responding well when treated unfairly by men).  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Over the last week (and in some ways the last year), I've been thinking about how easy it is and, in a sense, how natural it is for one person to be misunderstood by another.  It's so easy to have the best intentions (from my perspective) and yet for others to misinterpret those intentions in a negative way.

And it's usually--though not always--when my good intentions are misunderstood that I end up on the receiving end of what feels like unfair treatment.  In my experience, there's a direct relationship between how good I feel like my intentions are to how unfairly I feel like I'm being treated when those intentions are misunderstood.

And you know what?  In those moments where my good intentions are misunderstood and I end up feeling treated unfairly, everything that Jesus didn't do on the cross is what I end up doing in those moments.  In those moments, contrary to the description of the Suffering Servant in verses 21-23,  I commit sin, I--in instinctive self-defense--speak words that purposely obscure at least some portion of reality, my heart reviles, my heart threatens, and I want to exact justice for myself rather than entrusting myself to the Father who judges justly.

How is Jesus different?  At least two ways, both of which I've already hinted at.

First, though I respond poorly when treated unfairly by men, Jesus responds well when treated unfairly by men.  The phrase "by men" is important because, in one sense, Jesus was not treated unfairly on the cross.  The cross was the greatest display of justice when the Father, to vindicate His righteousness, placed upon the sin-bearer the penalty that sin rightly deserved (Romans 3:21-26).  Jesus, as that sin-bearer, was not treated unfairly on the cross by the Father.  But He was treated unfairly by the men who sentenced him to the cross, which seems to be the focus of Peter's thought, especially when he ends verse 23 by saying that, in spite of the unfair treatment by men, Jesus nonetheless entrusted Himself to the God who judges justly--or, with fairness.

Second, Jesus always has the best and purest intentions.  In this life, my intentions are always mixed and never completely pure.  What this means is that there is always legitimate reason for others to misunderstand me.  But that is never the case for Jesus.  There is never legitimate reason to misunderstand Him.  So if anyone should tolerate being misunderstood, it's me; not Jesus.

But what's so amazing is that the One who has no reason to be misunderstood by men is the only one who is patient when misunderstood by men and in a sense understands us when we misunderstand Him (Luke 23:34).

And He calls us to imitate Him in this very thing--this naturally impossible thing.  Not just toward the non-Christian who mocks you, but toward the dear brother who misinterprets your loving intention.  The reason why Peter twice calls it a gracious thing (verse 19, 20) to respond like Jesus when we feel treated unfairly by men is precisely because it's an impossible thing.  If it were easy or even possible, it wouldn't require the supernatural power of grace.

But, Christian, this is our calling.  This is our life.

Father, please grant us more grace.  In the name of the Suffering Servant we pray, Amen.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Riches and Wealth: The Heart of the Matter

In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.”
2 Chronicles 1:7-12
Three observations and two implications.

Observation #1:  Solomon does not ask God to give him possessions, wealth, honor, revenge, or long life for himself (verse 11).

Obersvation #2:  God is pleased not only that Solomon asks for wisdom ("Because ... [you] have asked for wisdom..."), but also that Solomon does not ask for riches, possessions, and honor ("Because ... you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor...").

Observation #3:  God grants Solomon immeasurably abundant riches, possessions, and honor (verse 12).

Implication #1:  Riches, possessions, and honor are not inherently bad.  If they were, God would never give them to Solomon.  The Father only gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:9-11).

Implication #2:  That doesn't give us the green light to ask God for riches, possessions, and honor--or even to want these things.  We must be very careful here.  Just because a thing isn't inherently evil doesn't mean we should want or pursue that thing.  The issue at stake is the heart.  What was Solomon's heart in asking for wisdom?  God reveals this in His response to Solomon: "Because this was in your heart... you have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people."  Wisdom not just for himself.  But for himself in order that he might serve others and establish God's kingdom.  That's a healthy heart.  And when the heart is right--which God alone (and not even us) can see--God very often will give us riches, possessions, and honor.  But that does not mean we should pursue these things.  Ours is only to be faithful in seeking His kingdom and to let God distribute the increase as He sees fit (Matthew 6:33).  In other words, we let the chips fall where they will.  We have no right or claim to anything.

The heart by nature is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9).  Even after God regenerates an individual and gives him or her a new heart, there are still remnants of corruption that allow our hearts to deceive us (Galatians 5:17).  And one of the ways the heart deceives is by inciting us to pursue things that are good for the wrong reasons--namely, self-centered reasons rather than God-centered and others-centered reasons (James 4:3-4).  And the heart is more deceitful than we think.  It will even go so far as to suggest that the riches we desire can be used to bless others in order to justify our pursuit of them since we could never justify it for our own ends alone.  "See," it tells us, "this really is about others."  No, it's self using others as a means to my own selfish ends.  Which is even more sinful than my selfishness in the first place.

So, could one argue that since riches aren't inherently evil, there's nothing wrong with desiring to be wealthy and asking God to bless that endeavor?  Well, based on logic alone, sure.  But we have a higher authority than logic--namely, Scripture.  And the predominant testimony of Scripture--specifically with regard to money--seems to be that a heart that desires riches and wealth is where the defect lies (1 Timothy 6:9-10, Proverbs 23:4-5, Proverbs 30:8-9), not in the riches and wealth itself.

So be very careful.  Passages like this and many others in Scripture--if the Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see--provide for us penetrating insight into the heart of God for the purpose that we might really know Him--the only true and living God--and, in knowing Him, know what pleases Him.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The True Nature of Christianity

From Christ Is Deeper Still:
“A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility.  But that of Augustine pleases me even more: ‘. . . so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second and third, and always I would answer ‘Humility.’”

John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11.

“Another observation, in a former letter of yours, has not escaped my remembrance – the three lessons which a minister has to learn:  1. Humility.  2. Humility.  3. Humility.  How long are we learning the true nature of Christianity!”

Charles Simeon, quoted in Charles Simeon, by H. C. G. Moule (London, 1956), page 65.

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison.  It was through Pride that the devil became the devil.  Pride leads to every other vice.  It is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, 1958), page 94.
From the apostle Paul:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 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 2:3-11
After exhorting us to humility (v.3-4), Paul shows us what it means to have a humble mind and heart by pointing us to the incarnation of Jesus (v.5-11). In other words, in the mind of the apostle, humility doesn’t exist apart from the person and work of Jesus (“which is yours in Christ Jesus”–and only in Him). Jesus Himself is the definition of humility. And, in this sense, humility really is the true nature of Christianity.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In the Dust and Sand of the Negev

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.
Genesis 15:17-21
What an awesome God we have!  What an incredible love he has for his creatures!

Imagine!  The Creator of the universe, the holy and righteous God, was willing to leave heaven and come down to a nomad's tent in the dusty, hot desert of Negev to express his love for his people.

"Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram... along with a dove and a young pigeon," God told Abraham.  Then, when those animals had been sacrificed and laid out on both sides of their shed blood, God made a covenant.  To do that, he walked "barefoot," in the form of a blazing torch, through the path of blood between the animals.

Think of it.  Almighty God walking barefoot through a pool of blood!  The thought of a human being doing that is, to say the least, unpleasant.  Yet, God, in all his power and majesty, expressed his love that personally.  By participating in that traditional, Near Eastern covenant-making ceremony, he made it unavoidably clear to the people of that time, place and culture what he intended to do.

"I love you so much, Abraham," God was saying, "and I promise that this covenant will come true for you and for your children.  I will never break My covenant with you.  I'm willing to put My own life on the line to make you understand."

Picturing God passing through that gory path between the carcasses of animals, imagining the blood splashing as he walked, helps us recognize the faithfulness of God's commitment.  He was willing to express, in terms his chosen people could understand, that he would never fail to do what he promised.  And he ultimately fulfilled his promise by giving his own life, his own blood, on the cross.

Because we look at God's dealings with Abraham as some remote piece of history in a far-off land, we often fail to realize that we, too, are part of the long line of people with whom God made a covenant on that rocky plain near Hebron.  And like those who came before us, we have broken that covenant.

When he walked in the dust of the desert and through the blood of the animals Abraham had slaughtered, God was making a promise to all the descendants of Abraham--to everyone in the household of faith.  When God splashed through the blood, he did it for us.

We're not simply individuals in relationship to God, we're part of a long line of people marching back through history, from our famous Jewish ancestors David, Hezekiah, and Peter to the millions of unknown believers; from the ancient Israelites and the Jewish people of Jesus' day to the Christian community dating from the early church.  We're part of a community of people with whom God established relationship in the dust and sand of the Negev.

But there's more.  When God made covenant with his people, he did something no human being would have even considered doing.  In the usual blood covenant, each party was responsible for keeping only his side of the promise.  When God made covenant with Abraham, however, he promised to keep both sides of the agreement.

"If this covenant is broken, Abraham, for whatever reason--for My unfaithfulness or yours--I will pay the price," said God.  "If you or your descendants, for whom you are making this covenant, fail to keep it, I will pay the price in blood."

And at that moment, Almighty God pronounced the death sentence on his Son Jesus.

--Ray Vander Laan via Stephen J. Wellum and Peter J. Gentry, Kingdom through Covenant

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teaching Children Everything Is a Means to Ministry

So helpfully challenging.

As much as children who grow up in such households would not only see the glory of God but be deeply molded into selflessly loving agents of redemption as a result of those years under their parents' roof, I'm convinced that any parents who wholeheartedly commit to teach this to their kids by humble example (including repentance when they fail) will be the ones who learn and change the most during those years.

In other words, teaching us how to be agents of redemption (e.g. a parent is an agent of his child's redemption) in this life is the essence of our very own experience of redemption in this life.

Or, stated another way, teaching us how to make disciples (e.g. a parent discipling his child) is the essence of our own formation into mature disciples.

Monday, December 16, 2013

When Or Becomes And

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
James 4:11
Notice the change of conjunction in the two following clauses.
The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.
I speak evil of my brother because I've judged him in my heart.

When I've only judged my brother in my heart, even if words never leave my mouth, my heart has already spoken evil of the law (and in essence my heart has already spoken evil of my brother).

In other words, Scripture tells us that God views speaking evil of my brother and judging my brother in my heart as one and the same.
...out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45

Friday, December 13, 2013

What Interpersonal Conflict Is Really About

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James 4:1-4
Follow the logic.

The things I don't have (v.2), which cause me to fight with others (v.1), are often what God refuses to give me because it's for my own sake, not His (v.3).  In other words, He refuses to finance my spiritual adultery (v.4a).

Which means that, at the end of the day, my fighting and quarreling with people is ultimately about my enmity with God (v.4b). 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

It Takes Two to Tango

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
James 4:1-2
It doesn't matter who started it.

By definition, a fight or quarrel requires two parties, which means there are always two people who covet something they don't have in those moments, not one.

And thus two sinners before God who need to repent.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Calvinist

See him on his knees,
Hear his constant pleas:
Heart of ev’ry aim:
“Hallowed be Your name.”

See him in the Word,
Helpless, cool, unstirred,
Heaping on the pyre
Heed until the fire.

See him with his books:
Tree beside the brooks,
Drinking at the root
Till the branch bear fruit.

See him with his pen:
Written line, and then,
Better thought preferred,
Deep from in the Word.

See him in the square,
Kept from subtle snare:
Unrelenting sleuth
On the scent of truth.

See him on the street,
Seeking to entreat,
Meek and treasuring:
“Do you know my King?”

See him in dispute,
Firm and resolute,
Driven by the fame
Of his Father’s name.

See him at his trade.
Done. The plan is made.
Men will have his skills,
If the Father wills.

See him at his meal,
Praying now to feel
Thanks and, be it graced,
God in ev’ry taste.

See him with his child:
Has he ever smiled
Such a smile before,
Playing on the floor?

See him with his wife,
Parable for life:
In this sacred scene
She is heaven’s queen.

See him stray. He groans.
“One is true,” he owns.
“What is left to me?

See him in lament
“Should I now repent?”
“Yes. And then proclaim:
All is for my fame.”

See him worshipping.
Watch the sinner sing,
Spared the burning flood
Only by the blood.

See him on the shore:
“Whence this ocean store?”
“From your God above,
Thimbleful of love.”

See him now asleep.
Watch the helpless reap,
But no credit take,
Just as when awake.

See him nearing death.
Listen to his breath,
Through the ebbing pain:
Final whisper: “Gain!”

--by John Piper
I could watch this over and over again and never grow weary of its profound and beautiful truth. I think it actually becomes more powerful each time.