Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Discipline of Dying

Over the past year (or maybe even longer) I've been working on writing here and there when I have the spare time. The end goal: a new book on the Sovereignty of God. I'm excited to announce that it's nearly complete, but that's not really the point of my post today. Today, I share an excerpt fresh off the press.

For about 3 months now, there has been a chapter left hanging. Incomplete. Wrapped in an enigma I not only failed to solve (which is never my aim) but I could not even begin to explore it. The chapter was on Moral Imperative, and the question: in view of God's absolute sovereignty, why even try?

Finally, it hit me (I think, at least. I'll let the comments on this post be the judge as to whether it makes the final cut). The reality is that we do not try. We die. But, lest that seem a mere platitude of escapism, do not forget that when we die we do. There is no trying in God's law, there is only doing. Be perfect. Be holy.

I wish that believers everywhere would find far less comfort in the limited success of their efforts to obey. Instead, when faced daily with the realities of our iniquity, we ought to learn the discipline of dying to self—self-motivation, self-sufficiency, self-reliance—and living in Christ's power. We ought to "carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10).

When we believe the lie that we, as Christian people, are somehow empowered now to live perfect lives, the reality of our present life lived in a dead carcass not yet regenerated will ultimately lead to disparity and defeat. We are, even after confessing Christ and receiving the Spirit, defeated by the moral imperatives of Scripture. And here, once again, in our present weakness we find strength only in God's power—His absolute sovereignty to work in and through us.

We know the folly of believing that one can earn salvation without the atonement of the cross. We are helpless but for His mercy. How much more foolish, then, after one's acceptance of Christ's atonement to go on in the Christian life pursuing moral imperative by our own will? How blinded have we become to take the same imperative which once drove us to our knees at the foot of the cross and later attempt its perfection within ourselves. No, the truth of the Gospel is that we must continually return to the cross, "to proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26) so as to confess with the Apostle Paul that "I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The Spirit's work in sanctification is not unlike His work in justification. Whereas we find righteousness through the imperatives of Scripture only when we die by the Law and receive Christ's imputed righteousness, so too does the Spirit sanctify us by the same imperatives which continually teach us to depend on Him for life. A deep thirst for Scripture is instilled in God's elect as a provision of God with the chief purpose that we find there not instruction for how to now succeed as Christians, but a perpetual conviction that we must "die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31).

That is the discipline of dying. Scripture drives us to our knees begging for God's mercy more than once in the Christian life. Life by the Spirit begins in utter dependence on God and therein it must also continue.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bookend of the Decalogue: Thou Shalt Not Covet

I've found it difficult to find inspiration to blog of recent (as you may have noticed). I think one reason has been the content that I've been teaching on. Do not steal. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery (not necessarily in that order). The cut-and-dry topics haven't granted fodder for great blog posts. Perhaps that's a flimsy excuse, but hey, it's better than "I'm just too busy."

Why do I mention this? Because, this week's content is markedly different. It struck me as I was driving today: Paul encapsulates the whole Law in this on commandment as illustrates the Law, Sin, Faith, and Forgiveness in Romans 7. "Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet'" (Romans 7:7). There must be something to this. Paul had so many other sins he could have illustrated, but he chose covetousness. Why?

This final commandment in the Decalogue against a covetous heart really book-ends the set of commandments that precede it. It's a summary command, but also an expansion upon the previous so-called "social" commandments. Whereas Paul may have been able to keep his body from outwardly stealing and murdering, he recognized that the tenth commandment made all of God's statutes an issue of the heart, not merely actions themselves.

Why is God so concerned about the attitude of our heart--and, particularly, the desires of our heart? Covetousness is simply a desire for one item/person or another. God knows, and indeed created us so that our desires play a major role in governing all the rest of our being. Our obedience, our worship, our love, our devotion, our acts of service, our everyday behavior--all of these find their root cause in the overpowering sense of desire within each of us. Likewise, adultery, murder, lust, stealing, lying, divorce, abortion, selfishness--all find their root cause in the overpowering sense of desire within us as well.

[As an aside, this makes for great fodder for discussion on the subject of compatibilism]

God gives strict warning in His law--not only in the Decalogue, but all throughout the Law--that Israel should guard their hearts and be mindful of their desires. A covetous person is no longer master over his/her desires. The tempter can exercise control over this person with disastrous consequences. It is for this reason that God commands His people: you shall not covet..."

"O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you." -- 1 Chronicles 29:18

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Monday, May 25, 2009

So the World May Know You Reign... You Reign in Us.

One of the less fortunate effects of God having placed in me a deep reverence for His sovereignty and the doctrines that acknowledge it has been the thought process that now accompanies any worship experience. Operating out of a deeply rooted understanding that God is wholly and totally sovereign over all things, salvation included, has prompted some questioning over certain worship songs. However, rather than digress into a philosophical conundrum over the phrasing of this lyric or that, I am compelled to write today about a song that I sang yesterday to my God with incredible joy.

In the song, "Reign in Us" by Starfield, the ending chorus says,
"Come cleanse us like a flood and send us out
So the world may know you reign, you reign in us."
As I sang this song aloud it struck me how great a picture this truly is of Jesus' command to tell the whole world about the good news of the Kingdom. That the world may know God reigns, and specifically that He reigns in His people, is exactly how He has purposed for His name to be glorified from as early as His covenant with Abraham. God's reign in Israel was to cause other nations to say, "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them" (Deut. 4:7).

In the same way, we are all to reflect the "Kingdom Values"--as our pastor has been calling it in his sermon "Jesus Speaks" series from the Sermon on the Mount. Our message to the world is to be that of proclamation of God's reign, His praiseworthy personhood, and His covenant of love with His church.

Yet, just as I do desire to go out into the world and proclaim that He reigns, and as we the Church are sent out to show that He reigns in us as a body, none of this can be shown without first the cleansing through Christ. The song declares first, "Come cleanse us." That is the prerequisite for His sending us out. When we declare His reign, it is not that we are declaring our choice to allow Him to reign. No, instead, we declare that it is He who re-created us anew, purchased us at a price, adopted us as sons, and now reigns supreme in our lives.

"But, Nick!" someone will exclaim, "The world will hear that as an undesirable dictator-god and not respond." But I ask, for whom do you proclaim? It is for God that we proclaim; it is in adoration of His son that we obey the command to go into all nations; We baptize in the name of the Father, Spirit, and Son; we teach them everything that Christ taught us; indeed it is Christ who is with us always.

So, as our desires are brought in line with God's (a nice plug for compatibalism), we pray "please reign." And, having the cleansing of His blood we are sent out to proclaim that He reigns... He reigns in us.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Impeccability: Could Christ Have Sinned?

In this week's class, as I had somewhat expected, the discussion of Christ's humanity led directly to the question of whether or not it was possible for Christ to have sinned. The Impeccability Doctrine (for those of you who may not be familiar with the debate) hinges on the dilemma that if Christ could have sinned, then we are at risk of implicating His divine nature in sin as well, and yet if he could not have sinned, then how was He truly tempted? It's no trivial matter and one that is hotly disputed in the study of Christology.

Could Christ have sinned? No. How can we know? We know today that He could not have sinned becayse we know today that He did not sin. Confused? Allow me to explain.

I'd like to begin by reducing the debate to it's core. To posit that Christ could not have sinned on the basis that He was God assumes the fact that God Himself is impeccable. So I ask: why is God unable to sin. As I consider the truth of His sovereignty, it's become more and more troubling to me to resolve that He cannot sin simply because He is moral. Can some outside moral structure of existence impose upon God the limitations of His action? As gravity dictates our abilities as humans, is God dictated to be sinless by some moral order of the universe? No.

This view is known as voluntarism, which is a deeply entangled term that can have many implications. For this topic, I simply mean to present that God is sinless because God has willed to be sinless. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, determined and willed according to His good pleasure to be sinnless, moral, faithful, and the host of other communicable attributes that we identify in God.

As we consider this, the question of Christ's impeccability becomes invariably clear. Could Christ have sinned? No. Why? Because God the Father ordained it. In the same way that He ordained that the pharisees would reject Him, that Peter would deny Him, and that Rome would Crucify Him, God ordained Christ to be sinless.

Now, as surely as we recognize this exhibition of God's sovereignty we must also recognize the mysterious reality of compatible free will. Inasmuch as we each have the genuine choice of what to eat for dinner tonight, that choice is no less real to us in the present despite the reality that God already knows what we'll eat. In the same way, Christ's temptation was no less real to Him during His life on earth. In fact, to all of creation—Jesus' human form included—the impeccability doctrine was yet undecided prior to Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. However, to the only God the Father, it most certainly was. He was not sitting on the edge of His seat for some 30 years, hoping like mad that His plan would come true. No, the sovereign Father says:

"I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is
still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I
please" (Isaiah 46:10).
So, what can this possibly mean for us? How can I take this philosophical proposition that appears to be nothing more than an extension of the age-old free will debate and actually apply it to my life? First, take heart: we have a mediator who was indeed tempted in every way we were. Not only that, but rejoice in the confidence that we have. The child of God is predestined to be conformed to the likeness of the Son, not because he can stand sinless in his own power, but because "the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). This power of God has been evidenced for us in Christ's life that He might be the firstfruits among many brothers: the second Adam, our glorious Head.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Compatibilism & Libertarianism

First, a follow-up for last week. We ended our discussion with the debate over human free will. I want to round out that discussion with a little final commentary, then I'll move on to our preview for next week's lesson in 1 Peter.

Free will that is "compatible" with God's is described like this: Man will do that which he most desires. This means that—in theory—God's will is carried forth through Man's so-called "free" will in that He knows what we desire, what we would choose given various circumstances, and thereby guides human history with this infinite knowledge. This stands in contrast to the libertarian freedom most advocated by Arminians where man's will is not imposed on in any way by God's will—compatible or otherwise.

Now, I included one key phrase "in theory" in this final commentary that (hopefully) wraps up this discussion for our class... at least for now. What I want you to realize is that neither "compatibalism" nor "libertarian" appear anywhere in my concordance, and unless you have some radical new translation of the Bible, I venture to say it's nowhere in yours either. The only authoritative word that we have to go on is the Word itself (or Himself, I could go either way there). I encourage you—nay, implore you—to seek answers FIRST in scripture and make every effort neither to add to its teaching nor dismiss any of its truths despite the understandability and/or logic of what you find.

I don't ask that everyone agree with me, nor Calvin, but only this: that you base your beliefs solely in scripture. Everything else is merely "in theory."

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