Monthly Archives: January 2012
Paul to the young Timothy:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12)
Several good action words there. Paul is very verby. Flee. Pursue. Fight. Take hold.
The kingdom comes forcefully and forceful men lay hold of it. A mighty Savior brings a mighty salvation, surely not to be mollycoddled.
What does the repentance unto faith look like?
Fleeing. Continually from sin. The jail bars are broken open. Don’t just stand there, make a break for it!
Pursuing. Continually the things of God. They won’t happen by accident. People don’t, as Carson says, “drift into holiness.”
Fighting. Not with fists but with the armor of God against every force of wickedness within and without that would distract or delay you from Christ-fixation.
Taking hold. Of the only source of power for fleeing, pursuing, and fighting — the gospel of Jesus Christ that makes the dead eternally alive. If you would be righteous, godly, faithful, loving, steadfast, and gentle, you must in faith lay hold of Jesus. Put him on, and the qualities that are his are yours.
So this is repentance. No excuses, no yes-buts, no waffling. Not hemming and hawing but an about-face and a cutting to the chase.
What is the shape of blasphemy? Jude gives us a vivid yet dark picture of those who pervert grace into sensuality:
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 12-13)
What depths of emptiness here. Jude piles on the metaphors, not too afraid to mix them in order to make it abundantly clear that false teaching smuggles death into a church. In his commentary on the book (TNTC), Michael Green summarizes, “They are as dangerous as sunken rocks, as selfish as perverted shepherds, as useless as rainless clouds, as dead as barren trees, as dirty as the foaming sea, and as certain of doom as the fallen angels.”
John Piper has given the illustration of the inverted mirror to help us see the ramifications of the fall. Made in God’s image to reflect his glory, we were created as mirrors at 45-degree angles, meant to receive the unhindered radiance of God’s glory and reflect it back up and out. In disobedience, we turn around to face the ground, however, and when you turn a mirror upside down, it does not reflect a light but casts a shadow on the ground. So in all idolatry we are worshiping the shadow cast by God’s …
“I find not salvation put upon the strength of faith, but the truth of faith; not upon the brightest degree, but upon any degree of faith. It is not said, If you have such a degree of faith you shall be justified and saved; but simply believing is required. The lowest degree of true faith wilt do it . . .”
— William Greenhill, An Exposition on the Prophet Ezekiel
“A weak faith is true. The bruised reed is but weak, yet it is such as Christ will not break. Though thy faith be but weak, yet be not discouraged. A weak faith may receive a strong Christ: a weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong; a weak eye might have seen the brazen serpent. The promise is not made to strong faith, but to true. The promise doth not say, Whosoever hath a giant faith that can remove mountains, that can stop the mouth of lions, shall be saved; but whosoever believes, be his faith never so small.”
— Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity
“Weak faith will as surely land the Christian in heaven as strong faith, for it is impossible the least dram of true grace should perish…”
— William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour
And the one shot more powerful than these three:
“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing …
“There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”
— G.K. Chesterton
If I were to know everything but love, my knowledge would be worthless. A demon can be a well-ordered systematic theologian; this I get. But let’s not fall off the horse on the other side.
We can’t be perfunctory about doctrine. When I read what the Bible has to say about bad doctrine — that it produces sin, that it endangers souls — and what it says about good doctrine — that it ought to be held firm and instructed, guarded, and contended for — I don’t get the impression that right theology is just something on a questionnaire to be glossed over or nodded at. The Scriptures give us no warrant to treat doctrinal orthodoxy like a mere formality.
You and I both know we have some significant differences of opinion — significant differences of conviction — about church and how it’s to be done, on everything from video venue stuff to the point of sermons, and all sorts of secondary theological issues, I’m sure. But this isn’t about any of that. Because even though we run in different tribes (so to speak), I love you and appreciate you and am glad for your heart for people and them knowing Jesus.
Pete, I remember when I was less of a nobody than I am now and you wanted to meet. I remembered you fondly from your pastoral teaching at the church we once shared, even though you didn’t know me then, and I’ve always been grateful for your instruction during that time. So I was glad to meet you as a friend and as a learner and to talk about life and ministry. You’re the real deal. And you acted as a friend to me when you had nothing to gain from it and no real reason to do it at all. I didn’t have a book out, I didn’t have blog traffic, I pastored a brand new church plant of about 20 people. All that to say: you showed me friendship and mentoring when most other people in your position had already written me off. I’ll never forget that.
Pete, when you more recently contacted me privately to discuss a concern you had, I was both impressed …
“As Jonathan conceived of grace given by God, however, it was, like its source, awesome. Where some might have pictured it as a sweet and gentle stream from which to drink as one saw fit, Jonathan saw God’s grace as a tide of goodness that overwhelmed the sinner. God, if He were truly divine, could not be small; grace, if it were truly grace, could not be weak.”
— Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 62.
I read D.A. Carson’s excellent little book Exegetical Fallacies about ten years ago and have revisited it a few times since then, always coming away with a resolve to read the Bible better. I am currently working through it again with a couple of fellows in our church’s pastor training and the ensuing discussions have been helpful. Here is one of my favorite passages:
Almost twenty years ago I rode in a car with a fellow believer who relayed to me what the Lord had “told” him that morning in his quiet time. He had been reading the KJV of Matthew; and I perceived that not only had he misunderstood the archaic English, but also that the KJV at that place had unwittingly misrepresented the Greek text. I gently suggested there might be another way to understand the passage and summarized what I thought the passage was saying.
The brother dismissed my view as impossible on the grounds that the Holy Spirit, who does not lie, had told him the truth on this matter. Being young and bold, I pressed on with my explanation of grammar, context, and translation, but was brushed off by a reference to 1 Corinthians 2:10b-15: spiritual things must be spiritually discerned — which left little doubt about my status.
Genuinely intrigued, I asked this brother what he would say if I put forward my interpretation, not on the basis of grammar and text, but on the basis that the Lord himself had given me the interpretation I was …
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
— Luke 18:9-14
In religious terms, what did the Pharisee have that the tax collector didn’t? Lots.
What did the tax collector have that the Pharisee didn’t? Nothing except money, which he at this point considers nothing.
The Pharisee brought all his religious currency to the market and found that his money was no good there. Instead the tax collector walked away justified because he “owned” his spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3), copped to the bottomlessness of his need. He brought nothing to the table and therefore was “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money …
Opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know it. (If you don’t, you above all people are to be pitied.) Indiana Jones has journeyed deep into a cavern deep in the South American jungle. He reaches the place where a shiny idol sits, perched on a weight-sensitive pedestal.
Indy sizes it up. He runs the guesstimated calculations in his head. He pulls out a pouch of sand, feels its weight in his hand, hoping it is equally heavy to the idol grinning back at him. He pours a bit out. He knows the only way to safely dispossess the pedestal of its old affection is the equal weight of a new one (pdf). He steels himself. He stretches his arms. Quick as lightning he snatches the idol from its stony cradle while simultaneously putting the sandbag in its place.
There is a pause. Nothing happens. He smiles, turns. And then all heck breaks loose. Actually, the cave breaks loose. A gigantic stone bowling ball comes tumbling down. Poison darts start shooting out of the walls. Pits open up. Walls slam down. And before you know it, Alfred Molina has a wall of spikes through his brainbone.
This is exactly what happens when we try replacing an idol with religious behavior. We think it’ll work. But it’s just a bag of sand.
If you put overturning Roe v. Wade to a popular vote, I’m in line early ready to vote in favor of protecting the approximately one million unborn babies killed each year, and if you’re a politician, the best way to lose my vote is to align with the pro-choice agenda.
Nevertheless, I don’t believe laws — or the protests and petitions and politicking that seek to achieve them — are the primary way we are going to eradicate abortion. Overturning Roe v. Wade is a win — and it’s a win we should work for, hard — but in my way of thinking, it is not the win.
The emancipation of the slaves and ensuing civil rights legislation was necessary. But none of it ended racism.
I am not proposing an either/or. What I’m proposing is that evangelicals take the harder route, adopt the harder cause, that we pray for and aim for Spiritual change of hearts more than we aim for legal stay of hands.
Here are some thoughts on how we may do this:
1. Gospel-centered preaching. Here’s the thing: Pastors who preach culture war receive Amens from the already convinced and almost nothing from everybody else. At its worst a steady dose of this creates an unhealthy “us vs. them” mentality that has us thinking of our enemies in ways the Sermon on the Mount strictly forbids. But pastors who proclaim the freedom from sin and abundant life in Christ lay groundwork for zeal for life, not just for winning political battles. …