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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Monday, June 8, 2009

A Covenant of Identity

Yesterday, as we kicked off our study of the 10 Commandments, we faced the difficult question for Christians studying the Law: "Why do I care?" Some positions, critically referred to as "cheap grace" or "free grace," leave little reason to study such statutes in view of the unconditional love of Christ. While still others, even the most staunch of reformers, can't quite affirm that a failure to adhere would equate in damnation or loss of salvation. So, what are we to get from the Old Testament, the old covenant, and the Law that will benefit us as Christians?

The underlying issue with both positions which I (admittedly caricatured slightly) introduced above is that they both fail to see the covenants as anything more than justifying measures. The former covenant justified by repeated sacrifice. The latter did so by Christ's death. Nonetheless, emphasis in the debate falls firmly on the matter of our justification. But was that the premise of the old covenant? Is it the premise of the new?

In Exodus 19:5-6, God introduces the covenant to Moses saying, "If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then..." What? You'll be saved from Hell? You'll enter Heaven? No. God's covenant was to make Israel His "treasured possession... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." His covenant was to turn a people who were nothing but helpless slaves into a nation with their own land and borders. His purpose was for them to be His priests on earth, holy for His service.

Did that all change when Christ instituted the new covenant on the cross? Did He die for anything different? No. Christ died, fulfilling the justification requirements to make us righteous, holy, and blameless--ready for service unto God. He redeemed us from bondage to sin, wherein we were helpless slaves, and turned us into something not dissimilar to the recipients of the first covenant: "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).

God's holy standard--that which would make His treasured people stand apart from the world--has not changed. In the 10 commandments we find the standard of how a holy people behave. The convicting thought, then, is that we as the Church are indeed God's holy people. So, hey you holy people: be holy!

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Inscriptions for Your Doorposts: Intro to the 10 Commandments

This Sunday I'll be starting a new series for the quarter on the 10 commandments. Being a marketer by trade, however, I'm always thinking of creative names for classes. We've chosen to title this "Inscriptions for Your Doorposts"--a reflection of Deuteronomy 6:9, where God tells Israel just how close these commands should be to their everyday life.

Over the next 12 weeks, you'll see me writing and posting Mp3 Lectures on the 10 Commandments. But, this week is the introductory class. What many Christians struggle to understand as they look at the commands is how they apply to our lives today.

Sure, we should behave well. We should follow a moral standard. We should obey God. But once anyone starts contemplating the Law on a theological level, it can get to be a sticking point of legalism vs. justification by faith. Why do I follow these laws? Why do I observe religious code in obedience to God? What do I write them on my doorposts? Aren't I forgiven--freed from the Law?

As we'll discuss in detail this Sunday (and my readers can enjoy via Mp3 when it's uploaded by Monday) the Law of the Old Covenant was a covenant of identity. So often, we focus on the justification and forgiveness of sin as the sole end of God's covenant with Man, we forget that Christ died to set us apart; to make us holy and worthy of serving God.

God introduces the 10 commandments in Exodus 19:4-6 describing how He'd freed them from bondage in Egypt. He turned a helpless tribe into a great nation by His power so they might be His treasured possession. The correlation, then, should be very clear as He later speaks through Peter to the church under the New Covenant saying,
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God" (1 Peter 2:9-10).

So, as we consider our identity--the Church chosen by God to be His people and declare His praises on earth--we should study with great interest the holy standards by which God commanded His covenant nation Israel to live.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

1 Peter 2:4-8 - The Chosen Cornerstone

In this passage, Peter uses a combination of metaphors as well as Old Testament quotations to show us (1) who Jesus was and then (2) who his readers, and all of the Church, is as a result. Let's begin with the identity of Jesus:

• Though rejected by men, Jesus was shown to be chosen with a purpose (verse 4; see also Matt. 21:33-44; Acts 2:22-35)...
• To be our High Priest, consecrating us in order that we too
can make spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (verse 5; see also Hebrews 8:11-14)...
• And to be the cornerstone, providing a pattern and foundation upon which the rest of the Church would be built (verse 6; see also Ephesians 2:19-22)...
• Of which he is the Savior, and the "one who trusts in Him" is saved by faith (verse 6; see also John 3:16)...
• From the wrath of God Himself and no other (see context of quote in verse 6 and 8 - Isaiah 28:14-19; 8:12-15).

I find it very important to realize the God-centric emphasis from beginning to end of this section. As I look through Scripture seeking instruction, truth, etc. I find constant reminders that God wants us to begin by acknowledging His supremacy. Here He begins by reiterating that Christ was His chosen one, and concludes letting us know that He is the one who judges. No one else can be compared to God. No one shares His powers to justify, to sanctify, and to judge.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

1 Peter 1:13-25 - Hey Holy People: Be Holy!

Mull that title over a few times and tell me how much sense it makes. It's kinda like telling a fire to burn, or telling a fish to get wet, right? Well, ironically that's the sort of call we find over and over again in the New Testament. Our passage this week is from 1 Peter 1:13 - 2:3 where Peter moves on from his theological presentation on the believer's salvation to a life application matter: be holy!

As you read this passage on your own in preparation for this Sunday (high hopes, I know, but humor me) if it weren't for what I'm about to tell you, you'd probably skim the words, hearing it the same way you perhaps have since you were a kid in Sunday School. But what if I dared you to know what holiness really meant? What if the same root word of Holy (hagios) appeared elsewhere outside of verses 15 and 16 in a way you might not expect. In our handouts page, there is a new BSL handout for the word "Holy." I encourage you to read it and consider the term anew.

This Sunday we'll take a close look at what it means to be holy. But also come prepared to find an intriguing new motivation to heed God's command for us, His chosen people, to be holy to the praise of His name.

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Bible as a Second Language (BSL)

The following downloads, called Bible as a Second Language (BSL), are word studies on common "christianese" terminology used in the church.

BSL - Gospel

BSL - Evangelism

BSL - Righteous

BSL - Holy.pdf

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