Wednesday, September 30, 2009

God is the Gospel: Fasting

In this next post in the series of going through Piper's God Is the Gospel, I have very little to add to his comments, mainly because I don't have much experience with fasting, and also because I don't think I have anything better to add. But let it land on you, and let it shape your understanding of what food and drink are, what fasting is, and how we're to do all things to the glory of God.
Why did God create bread and design human beings to need it for life? He could have created life that has no need of food. He is God. He could have done it any way He pleased. Why bread? And why hunger and thirst? My answer is very simple: He created bread so that we would have some idea of what the Son of God is like when He says, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). And He created the rhythm of thirst and satisfaction so that we would have some idea of what faith in Christ is like when Jesus said, "He who believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). God did not have to create beings who need food and water, and who have capacities for pleasant tastes.

But man is not the center of the universe, God is. And everything, as Paul says, is "from Him and through Him and to Him" (Romans 11:36). "To Him" means everything exists to call attention to Him and to bring admiration to Him. In Colossians 1:16, Paul says more specifically that "all things were created by [Christ] and for [Christ]." Therefore bread was created for the glory of Christ. Hunger and thirst were created for the glory of Christ. And fasting was created for the glory of Christ.
This last paragraph is the point, and should be read very slowly:
Which means that bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for His goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God Himself.

When we eat, we taste the emblem of our heavenly food -- the Bread of Life. And when we fast we say, "I love the Reality above the emblem."

In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship. Both magnify Christ. Both send the heart -- grateful and yearning -- to the Giver. (pp. 140-141)
As you eat, as you drink, and as you give up both for love of the Reality above the emblems of food and drink, let your heart spring up with gratitude and yearning to the Giver of all good things.

...and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God;
and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
- Romans 14:6 -

Whether, then, you eat or drink
or whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 -

Monday, September 28, 2009

God is the Gospel: A Matter of Life and Death

It's been a while since I've posted on Piper's book God is the Gospel. In fact, it's been two months since my first post on it, shortly after I finished reading it. So perhaps some review is in order.

The crucial post in this series is the first post after the introduction, which discussed the thesis of the book; namely, that God Himself is His greatest gift. In all the wonderful, unspeakable benefits and gifts brought to us by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the chief gift that they all point to is God Himself. And none of those gifts are good news at all unless they are received for the sake of enjoying the manifold perfections and beauty of God. Here's a quote from that first post:

All the gifts of God are given for the sake of revealing more of God's glory, so that the proper use of them is to rest our affections not on them but through them on God alone. (p. 116)

I think I read that sentence about 10 times as I was reading through the book. The way we glorify God in His gracious gifts and at the same time not idolize them is, in the moment we receive them, to recognize why God is giving them to us. He is giving us gifts and mercies to reveal His glory, so that we might see Him in them and enjoy and worship and magnify His sweetness. Our affections must not terminate on the gifts. We have to push through the gifts and rest our affections on God alone.
And so that's where we are. Every one of the good things the Gospel brings us is to be desired and received for the sake of what it shows of God (p. 144). And there is a way to receive these gifts and enjoy them as good things in and of themselves, and yet not magnify the Giver above His gifts. Piper writes:
If gratitude for the gospel is not rooted in the glory of God beneath the gift of God, it is disguised idolatry. (p. 138)
It is disguised idolatry. Edwards called it the gratitude of hypocrites (p. 137). These are strong statements. And the subject of this post is that these statements get stronger. There are two particular places in the book where Piper shows the level of importance of these things. And so the question is, "What if some people don't believe this?" What if some people don't buy the whole 'joy-in-Giver-above-gift' thing? Is this just a stylistic thing? Is it just another way of looking at things? Is it just a rhetorical device to arouse people's emotions to worshiping God? What if I love my salvation, my justification, my coming glorification, and want to go to Heaven, but I don't find Piper's thoughts resonating with me?

Get this:
If we believe these things [propitiation, redemption, forgiveness, imputation, sanctification, liberation, healing, heaven] have happened to us, but do not embrace them for the sake of getting to God, they have not happened to us. ... People who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. ... If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel. (p. 47)
That's an amazing statement. And I agree 100%. Because the fundamental change that happens to us at our conversion is that, by our new birth, we get new eyes to see (John 3:3, 1:4; 2Cor 4:3-6). Our spiritual death is manifested in our ability to stare right at Jesus, right into all of the glory of the Gospel, and be entirely unaffected. We see the claims of the Bible and they're boring, or they're fanciful, or we're just indifferent to the most glorious things in the universe. But when we are regenerated, our eyes are finally opened, and we can see things as they actually are.

And if we, with our new eyes that can actually see, can look at Jesus and prefer anything other than Him, it would mean that He is actually not the most glorious thing in the universe. And so if you believe that you've been regenerated, your sins expiated, the Father's wrath propitiated on your behalf, Christ's righteousness imputed to you -- even if you say believe all of those things, but your eyes don't work, you haven't got new eyes.

"But I want Heaven! I don't want to go to hell! I admit I'm a sinner! And I want to confess my sin and receive forgiveness! I believe the promises of God and want to receive them!" If that sounds like you, Piper responds to your very thoughts:
There is no sure evidence that we have a new heart just because we want to escape hell. That's a perfectly natural desire, not a supernatural one. It doesn't take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God's wrath, or the inheritance of God's world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don't need to be born again to want these things. The devils want them. (p. 121)
The demons want those things (Jas 2:19). You don't need to be born again to want those things. But you do need to be born again to see the glory of Jesus as it is, and treasure Him as He's worthy of being treasured.

All of life is a matter of worship. And only the Triune Godhead of the Bible is worthy of worship. Him. Not even the good gifts He gives are worthy of worship. The kind of worshipers that the Father seeks are those who worship in Spirit and Truth (Jn 4:23). You can be sure that worshipers of anything other than God won't be worshiping in Heaven.

If, like me, this baffled your sensibilities, and challenged you to examine your heart for the idols we are so adept at erecting, confess your idolatry to God in prayer. Repent of treasuring things -- even good things -- more than you treasure Him. Ask Him to forgive you for dishonoring His name. And ask Him to show Himself so clearly to you, so big and magnified and exalted and sweet and desirable, that His beauty would compel true worship and adoration from your heart.

Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you ... I am the bread of Life.
- John 6:26-27, 35 -

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
- Galatians 1:8 -

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Calvinism, John 3:16, and an Arminian Friend

A couple of months ago, I started thinking hard about what is and is not taught in the most famous, oft-quoted verse in the Bible: John 3:16. While that series of posts outlining my conclusions still lies in the future, I wanted to share an email response that was spawned out of that discussion.

My interlocutor is a dear brother in Christ, whose friendship and brotherhood I have long treasured. (I'll call him Jerry.) Jerry kindly responded to my email concerning John 3:16, probably suspecting that what I was trying to get at had something to do with a Calvinist vs. Arminian understanding of the passage. While that wasn't what I was getting at, I thought that the exchange we had would be particularly beneficial to share.

The following is my most recent response to him. I've reproduced only select portions of his original email to (1) narrow the scope of this post, and (2) to shorten this post to a semi-reasonable length.


Hey Man,

So again, let me tell you that it was a joy to read through what you wrote. At so many of the points you made I found myself just saying, "Amen," and rejoicing and praising God. I particularly enjoyed considering Jesus as the serpent of Numbers 21 and the Son of Man of the book of Daniel, and how you said one image depicts His bringing salvation and the other depicts His deity. Wasn't anything new, but it's always nice to have Christ presented to you by your brothers. So, hear that.

But there were also some things that you presented that I disagree with, and would love the opportunity to present what I think is the Biblical position on some of the topics you brought up. I'll start here. You said:

The world…

I know some respected theologians believes that God offers salvation only to the elect… however I believe the context points toward God loving those that accept and those that reject Him.

I actually agree with you here, too, even though I'm a Calvinist. Some folks say that "the world" refers only to the elect. Some say that "the world" just means that it's in contrast to what Nicodemus would have thought (that is, that salvation would only be offered to Israel). So proponents of that view would say that "world" is contrasted with "just Israel" (as I believe it is in 1 John 2:2). But here, I believe that Jesus is saying that God has loved (note the past tense, denoting that this 'loving' is an action that took place at a particular time) the totality of fallen humanity in a particular way: by sending His Son to die for sinners. This would be contrasted with the angels, who were not loved like that to even have a Savior presented/offered to them, but were damned without mercy (2Pet 2:4).

That the gift of Christ’s atonement has the potential to pay the sin debt of every man ever created, however with all gifts of God (Romans 6:23) it is not forced upon us. We are responsible before God to accept the gift of salvation.

Here, though, I perceive some inaccuracies in the way of speaking about the atonement. First, let me state further some agreement with what you say. Neither of us believe in universalism, that is, that everyone in history will be saved. But for a second, let's imagine that they did. I don't believe that Christ would have had to suffer any more than He did to pay for the sins of every single person. That is, I believe the atonement to be sufficient to pay for the sins of every human being ever born.

However, I do not believe that that was the design of it, simply because not everyone will be saved. More on this to follow.

I do have a question about what you said. How do you support the point that none of God's gifts are forced upon us?

Also, you say that "we are responsible to accept the gift of salvation." I have to tell you, brother, I never find that kind of language in Scripture. We are never exhorted to accept a gift. We are exhorted to
believe, and so be saved. I would say that it is more Biblical to say that we are responsible before God to believe in Christ, or to obey the Son / obey the Gospel command to believe (John 3:36; cf. 2Th 1:8, 1Pet 4:17).

That whoever shall believe in Him...

Romans 10:9, Romans 10:13 – again it implies that anyone can get saved.

I disagree here. I think that these verses simply teach that anyone who believes (or, calls on the name of the Lord, Rom 10:13) will be saved. These verses simply teach the conditions that must be met for salvation. They do not say a word about whether or not all are able to meet these conditions. I don't think that you can accurately say that the statement of the conditions of salvation implies that anyone can meet the conditions. There's a jump there that the text doesn't make.

So the question becomes: who will meet this condition of faith for salvation? The answer is actually given at the end of the verse that Paul quotes in Romans 10:13. He's quoting Joel 2:32, but only the first half. Here's the whole verse: "And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls."

The ones who call on the Lord's name for deliverance, the ones who escape unto salvation, the survivors are those
whom the Lord calls. The ones who call on Him are only the ones that He first calls. The reason is because, apart from being given new life, eyes to see, and ears to hear, everyone without exception will remain under God's wrath (John 3:36), in their spiritual death (Eph 2:1-3), in their blindness (John 3:3), in their deafness (John 8:43, 47). It's important to see that John says that God's wrath remains on the unbeliever / the disobedient, because it means that it was already there by default. We were by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3).

So unless something happens to us outside of ourselves, we will never believe, we will never obey, we will never choose God. Indeed, the mind set on the flesh is
hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so (Rom 8:7).

And so in John 3:16, salvation by faith alone is offered to every single person in the world. That is love. It is the love of the offer of life. The great tragedy is that no one wants it, and everyone prefers to die in their sins. Our wills are too enslaved to our sin (John 8:34; Rom 6:6, 16-20) and hostile to God (Rom 8:7) to want anything else.

So, in what the Bible calls
great love (Eph 2:4), which is a love greater than the general love of John 3:16, God elects, or chooses, a people for Himself (Eph 1:4-5; Titus 2:14), and makes them alive (Eph 2:5), even when they were dead and wanted nothing to do with Him. According to His great mercy (a mercy greater than the mercy of John 3:16), He caused us to be born again (1Pet 1:3). In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the word of truth (James 1:18). Indeed, those who received Jesus, who believed in His name, they were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

The love of John 3:16 is a wonderful love. But it is not the greatest love that the Bible speaks about. I say that because it is a kind of love that can still let us go to hell. I can be loved by the love in John 3:16 and still die in my sins. But I cannot be loved by the
great love in Ephesians 2:4 and still die in my sins. No, by that love I have been made alive! By that love I have been born again! It is by His will that I was brought forth, and was given to His Son (John 10:29), and no one can snatch me out of the hand of the Son (John 10:28) or out of the hand of the Father (John 10:29)! Indeed, the only way we come to Jesus is if the Father draws us (John 6:44), and no one can come unless the Father grants it (John 6:65).

this great love, Jerry, God has overcome my hostile, enslaved will, even when I was refusing Him (Rom 1:18). By this love He has given me the grace to see the glory of Christ when I was once blind to it (John 3:3), and so having seen the beauty and delightfulness of that glory, I could never choose anything but Him. That's what I mean by what folks call irresistible grace; not that people never resist Jesus / the Holy Spirit, but that in this great love with this grace He overcomes my resistance, and shows me something irresistible: the glory of God in the face of Christ (2Cor 4:6)!

So I believe that the Bible presents that it is incorrect to talk about the atonement as if it
only made salvation possible. If that's the case, Jesus' death didn't actually atone for anything. It just made atonement possible. That would mean, then, as well, that what does atone is the sinner's choice. The difference between the believer and the non-believer is not God's grace, but that the believer chose to 'activate' the atonement and the non-believer didn't. I think that's foreign to Scripture, and thus a dangerous position to hold.

I think the Scripture presents Jesus' atonement as having
actually atoned, having actually purchased redemption for a people that God would call to Himself, and not for others.

  • In John 10:11, Jesus says He lays down His life for the sheep. He does not lay down His life for the goats.
  • In Acts 20:28, Paul says that God (Jesus) purchased the Church with His own blood. He did not purchase the whole world.
  • In Ephesians 5:25ff, Paul talks about Christ loving the Church by giving Himself up for her. He talks about sanctifying her and washing her so that He might present her to Himself. This is a particular people.
  • In Titus 2:14, Paul says that Jesus gave Himself to purify for Himself a people for His own possession. This is a particular people.
  • That's confirmed when this same phrase is used in 1Pet 2:9: That we are a people for God's own possession. There, that particularity is even connected to His sovereign choice, or a election, in that He calls us a chosen race.
  • In John 17:9 in the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus declares to the Father that He's praying for His people, and not the world. And the reasoning He Himself uses for doing this is because the Father gave only His people to Jesus, and not the whole world.
Now, it's important to remember what I said at the beginning of this email (so hard, I know, because of the length!). I do believe God loves the world by sending Christ. And I do believe that Jesus' death brought some good things to all people (i.e., common grace, the influence of God's people in their lives). This is what 1 Timothy 4:10 means when it says that Christ is the savior of all men, especially those who believe. That is, that all men are not damned instantly as the angels were (2Pet 2:4; Jude 6) and that they enjoy the common goodnesses that the Father sends (Matt 5:45) means that the death of Christ purchased some good things for them. But Christ saved "those who believe" especially, meaning that He saved them to the uttermost (Heb 7:25, KJV), in that He paid for their sins and actually redeemed them.

Christ could not have paid for the sins of everyone ever. If He did, all would be saved. But the Bible clearly teaches this isn't the case. You couldn't have Jesus paying for the sins of non-elect Jim, fully propitiating the Father's wrath against Jim's sin, and then because Jim doesn't believe have him be punished for eternity, under the Father's wrath. For those for whom the wrath of God has been propitiated (the elect), there is no wrath of God left (Rom 8:1). By definition, Christ has
satisfied, or fully extinguished the wrath of God towards those for whom He died. So if Christ paid the penalty for the sins of every single person everywhere, no one would be in hell unless Christ's sacrifice was not acceptable to the Father. But of course we know and believe that it was (Hebrews 9-10).

Alright... that's about enough, wouldn't you say? I welcome your response, even if it's in pieces! I hope that I've presented to you to the Word of God. It's out of a great desire for you to know Christ as He's revealed Himself, so that you can enjoy Him for all that He is in all His wonderful contours, and so that He can get the glory for being rightly seen and worshiped. I commend this teaching to you in love. I pray that it's a benefit to you, brother.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

High Priest

I've posted previously on Christian rapper Shai Linne, and there I've commented in brief on what I think of "Christian rap."

I heard the following song after reading through the book of Leviticus twice, which was very fitting. The song is called "High Priest," and it's basically the experience that the Jewish high priest had on the Day of Atonement each year, told from the priest's perspective. Shai Linne is on point in capturing not only the accuracy and precision of those rites of worship, but the reverence and temerity that the book of Leviticus demands for worshipers of Yahweh.

As I listened to it I thought that our worship today with our hands and voices raised should be no less reverent and grave. It is a serious thing to approach the throne of God. He doesn't have to accept our worship. Our best, purest worship is like filthy rags (Is 64:6). But because of the great, sufficient, finished work of Jesus Christ, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence that He accepts our worship as it's bathed in His Son's blood (Heb 4:14-16; 10:19-22).

Anyway, enjoy the song. As you read the lyrics below, let it spur you on to pure and reverent worship. I encourage you to listen to the song twice, and click on all the links on the second time through.

There's commotion in my brain, strange is the notion,
Words cannot explain my range of emotion.
I'm speechless, my flaws exposed and my weakness,
Each breath draws me closer to a deep test.
It's month number seven, it's been ten days,
I've been awake all night reflecting on my ways.
A threat to my peace in this greatest of moments,
Because I'm the High Priest and its the Day of Atonement.
The LORD is so holy and perfect, I'm nervous,
I'm floored that He chose me to worship through service.
Don't ask me why the God who crafted the sky,
Drafted this weak guy from the clan of Levi.
Preceding generation taught me to read the regulations,
Deep meditation on decreed revelation.
Extreme trepidation breeds hesitation,
Yet I must lead and be the representation.
My occupation: to intercede for the nation,
But indeed my own sins need expiation.
The wrath of Jehovah's grim, sin is no joke to Him,
The hope is slim for unholy men coming close to Him.
He's spoken in His Word the proper way of approach to Him,
Nadab and Abihu got it wrong and He roasted them.
These things I weigh as I sigh,
This could either be the greatest day of my life or the day that I die!


So you say that you wanna know the Lord?
Do you really wanna stand before the Lord?
Do you know what it takes to meet the Lord?
God is an all-consuming fire.
So you say that you wanna know the Lord?
Do you really wanna stand before the Lord?
Do you know what it takes to meet the Lord?
Be careful what you desire.

For now, no time to focus on my sinning,
I bathe in the laver though it seems extreme,
I put on the holy coat made of white linen,
Craving His favor -- I'm ceremonially clean.
I check to inspect -- no tangible faltering,
Next I must collect the animals for the offering.
A spotless ram and a bull -- the components,
God gives to make atonement for my own sins.
This part of the ritual makes me real cautious,
Because the very sight of blood makes me feel nauseous.
Still I proceed by snatching him close, slashing his throat,
When his blood splashed on my coat.
Reacting, I choke -- gasping that's when I'm grasping,
God's reaction that sin provokes.
I take a moment to reflect on the blood spilled in this,
Staring at the goat to be sent into the wilderness.
I'll confess Israel's sins with my hands on his head,
Symbolizing guilt transferred in stead
To a substitute the living God provided and stamped,
Guilty of our sin, driven outside the camp.
This beautiful picture of hope and grace motivates,
And I don't want my fear to make this dope occasion go to waste.
Change my outer garments, slow my pace, yo I brace
Myself to stand before Jehovah's face in the Holy Place.


The time has come, the great moment has arrived,
About to enter in -- what a lonely enterprise.
Look at the other priests, they speak only with their eyes,
Rope tied around my ankle just in case I don't survive.
I enter through the first curtain to a dark room,
I'm standing in the Holy Place, my thoughts consumed.
I'm caught off guard, I'm unraveling at this stage,
My heart beats so hard it's rattling my ribcage.
Feeling like I'm disintegrating and I can't stand,
Comforted by the light emanating from the lampstand.
This helps my vision -- I can see the showbread,
I think of God's provision, that helps me go ahead.
I need courage to worship! Man, this is intense!
I take burning coals off the altar for the incense.
The sweet aroma fills the room,
The smoke protects my eyes -- one sight of Jehovah seals my doom.
It's no mere coincidence I'm here surrendering,
With fear and trembling I'm nearly entering.
I feel like running scared, hoping I'm not unprepared,
Stunned with fear -- no one comes in here but once a year.
Nevertheless I'm at the point of no return,
Besides, I don't want my anointing to be spurned.
After counting to three, next time I exhale,
I'm in the Holy of Holies, beyond the veil!
The first thing I realize is I'm thrilled that I've
Entered into God's presence and yet I'm still alive.
I'm awestruck by the weight of His terrible beauty,
It's almost unbearable but I must fulfill my duty.
Approach the ark, the first part of my works complete,
when I sprinkle blood seven times on the mercy seat.
Quickly I exit, impressed with the chesed,
that rescues the wretched and left us accepted!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Home for a Wedding

So today we're back in New Jersey! We've taken a short trip home for Janna's brother's wedding! It seems so formal to say it that way -- "my brother-in-law's wedding" -- because really it's just two of our best friends getting married.

So in the absence of a normal Friday post, and with the theme of marriage dominating my imagination right now, the best I can think of is to link to a past post I did about marriage and it's relationship to the Gospel. It's called Marriage: An Exposition of Covenant-Keeping Grace. I pray that it's a benefit to you. It's great to be reminded of the wonderful picture of grace and salvation that God has given to us in His institution of marriage. It's something we take for granted a lot of the time. But if we didn't, our marriages -- and our worlds -- would be transformed.

It's great to rejoice with those who rejoice. I'm looking forward to witnessing another miracle on Saturday, when God makes two of His children into one. And how it makes me look forward with gladness to that great day when the Bridegroom shall have His Bride.

And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great." Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb '" And he said to me, "These are true words of God." - Revelation 19:5-9 -

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"I Will Make Your Name Great"

In my last two posts (Friday, Monday), I have been taking a look at the sin of those who proposed to build the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. As I had mentioned, there was always something curious about that story in my mind. I guess I never really thought it made sense. I didn't know what the big deal was about building a tower. But as I've read it afresh, God's intentions became clear to me. And so in their declaration to build the Tower, we saw that their sin was twofold: that it was directly disobedient to God's command to fill the earth, and that their desire to make a name for themselves was treasonous. And, with our wicked, rebellious, desperately sick hearts, and all of our prideful desires to bring glory to our name, and to steal it from Yahweh who's name is worthy, we found ourselves right there with them, building that Tower.

It's a sad story, because it gives us a realistic look at who we are as human beings. Not "basically good" people who sometimes do bad things but are generally all right, but as rebellious, treasonous subjects who spit on the name of their King in hopes to steal the renown due Him and gain a name for ourselves.

But this study would be incomplete without reading the opening verses of the next chapter in Genesis. Be stunned by this.
  • Genesis 12:1-3 - Now Yahweh said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
This is so great. There is glory to be given to Yahweh for His sovereignty. The Babel-onians' problem was that they wanted to make a name for themselves. But Yahweh tells us that He is the One who makes names great! He is the source of glory and renown! And no one will decide what's happening with His creatures and His creation but the Creator Himself! Amazing!

But... wait a minute, though. What about how zealously Yahweh pursues glory for His own name, and how He won't give His glory to another? The sin of the Babel-onians was that they wanted to make a name for themselves, and thus steal Yahweh's glory. And now here, Yahweh is talking about making Abram's name great? What sense does this make?

This is so beautiful, friends. This is the wonderful glory of grace! Yahweh our God will have nothing of anyone trying to make their own name great. He will have no pretenders to His throne. But it is of great glory to Him to freely benefit those whom He chooses to benefit. How zealously does He declare that He pursues His own glory! And He does! But how lovely is it that He -- not shares His glory with, but -- is glorified in an unworthy moon worshiper from Ur of the... who? The Chaldeans! The Babylonians! Just a few generations later, Yahweh freely decides to grace a man with a great name from the very land in which He destroyed the plans of the people to make for themselves a great name!

That Yahweh makes His name great and zealously pursues His glory is a great and wonderful thing. It exalts Him high as Lord over all, a God to be feared and worshiped for His great glory. And we should love that about Him!

But that He purposes to make His name great by freely making an unworthy enemy's name great glorifies Him all the more as the God of grace!

Love this grace, Christian! For it has come to you and me. God has freely chosen us rebellious traitors to participate in this great drama of bringing all glory to Himself. Praise God! Grace has come to you and me!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.
- Titus 2:11 -

Monday, September 14, 2009

"And Let Us Make for Ourselves a Name"

This is the second post in a three-part series on the sin of those who purposed to build the Tower of Babel.

Last time, I introduced the scene at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) and observed that the sin of the 'Babel-onians' was twofold. First, by their desire to not be scattered abroad over the whole earth, there was direct disobedience of God's command to fill the earth (Gen 1:28; 9:1). We focused on this aspect of their sin and found ourselves right there with them, building that tower, as we discovered the desperate sickness of the rebellion of our hearts against our God.

Today I'm going to focus on the second aspect.


The direct disobedience that manifested the wickedness of their (our) hearts is not all there is to it. The repulsiveness of sin is seen in their (our) treasonous hearts: "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

I hope that sends chills down your spine. Hear the deceitful treason in the desires of their heart. "I want to be great! I want to have renown! I want to be feared among all the people! I want a great name!

"I... want... glory!!!"

And here friends, we see the fountainhead of all the wickedness of our heart spoken of in Friday's post. Our most fundamental problem is that we want glory for ourselves. And yet we're not worthy of it. And we cannot take any glory for ourselves without stealing it from the One who is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise.

From just a fraction of His revelation, listen to Yahweh's passion for His own Name:
  • Exodus 9:16 - But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.
  • Isaiah 29:23 - They will sanctify My name; Indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob And will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
  • Isaiah 42:8 - I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another!
  • Isaiah 48:11 - For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
  • Malachi 1:11 - For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations," says Yahweh of hosts.
Does the Babel-onians' treason give you chills yet? "Let us make for ourselves a name!"

And oh feel the thunder of God's voice and the fire of His eyes when He answers these traitors, when He declares how zealously He will pursue glory for His name! Feel the force of these declarations! "No! Your name will not be great among the nations! My name will be great among the nations! My name will be proclaimed in all the earth! My name will be sanctified! I will by no means give My glory to you!"
So Yahweh scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth.
This is how God reacts to pride, to those who, unworthy though we be, would steal His glory! And friends, He will not delay to do the same to us who would gather together to build towers to heaven to receive glory for ourselves, to be praised, to be adulated, to be affirmed, to be made much of.

Oh how pervasive pride is in all of us! Oh how we love people to be impressed by our clever thoughts and words! How we love them to see our accomplishments and praise us for them! How we love them to see even our progress by grace in the Christian life, which is not of ourselves (1Cor 4:7), though we would receive glory for it! Oh how we love the praise of men, and desire to make for ourselves a name!

This is your heart. This is, straight from the mouth of Almighty God, what your heart is. Oh, may it keep you near the cross!

How can you believe when you receive glory from one another,
and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?

- John 5:44 -

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Heart is Desperately Sick

This post is the first of a three-part series on the sin of those who purposed to build the Tower of Babel.

4They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth." 5The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6The LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. 7"Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." 8So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.
- Genesis 11:4-9 -

So for most of my life I haven't understood this passage.

What was the problem with these guys just building a tower? Yeah, I guess they were prideful in imagining they could reach heaven, but they wouldn't have been able to do it anyway. Did God really feel threatened? Would a successful effort on the part of these 'Babel-onians' have really opened the door of omnipotence to them? And was all God after in confounding their language getting them to give up because they just couldn't understand each other?

In the past couple weeks, for my Old Testament studies class, I've had to read Genesis twice. I've read that story a couple more times as well (quick review before class, lecture during class, etc.). There's a benefit of reading large portions of Scripture repeatedly. As I did this, I believe I gained some insight into why the Babel-onians' sin was specifically offensive to God. And the insight the Word of God gives us into their sin will help us know our own sin, and will therefore aid in that process of the mortification of the flesh (8:12-13), in which, as Christians, we are engaged.

Their sin of congregating and building this tower is twofold: there was direct disobedience of God's command, and there was grievous treason. Today, we'll look at the direct disobedience and seek to find ourselves there, building that tower, as well.


The part of their sin that I want to focus on first is revealed by the following: "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

And you say, "What's the problem with that? They like hanging out with each other. Is it really such a big deal that they didn't want to be scattered abroad?"

The problem was that it was in direct defiance of the very first command God gave man after He made them.
  • Genesis 1:28 - God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
After destroying the earth by the Flood, because every intent of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5), He also gave this charge to mankind, now to the descendants of Noah.
  • Genesis 9:1 - And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth."
And so in chapter 11, one of the Babel-onians' intentions was to avoid being scattered abroad, in direct disobedience of a command they'd received once from their Creator, through their federal head, and then again through their ancestor Noah (only 4 or 5 generations back).

Where this intersects with all of us is: it illustrates the same truth as Genesis 6:5. You say, "No, we're not like those 'every-thought-only-evil-continually' people! God wiped them out! These guys may have been bad, but if they were that bad God would have wiped them out again."

Not at all. God's mercy that has flowed to us through the blessings of the Noahic Covenant did not come because we were a better product than those alive before the flood. Listen to God's reasoning for why He decided never to destroy the earth again by water:
  • Genesis 8 - ...and the LORD said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done."
God basically says that if He gave us what we deserved, He'd have to destroy the earth every couple of generations or so! The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth. And even though that's the case, He'll bless us by not wiping us off the face of the earth as we deserve.

And so when God gives us a command to fill the earth, our wicked, rebellious hearts that think only evil continually decide that we'll stay put. Know the depth of your depravity, friends. Know that, when met with our corrupted flesh, God's holy, righteous, and good Law (Rom 7:12) serves only to aggravate our sin all the more, to drive us to despair, and to cause us to call out for mercy from the One who was born under the Law so that He might redeem those who were under the Law (Gal 4:4-5), from the One who became a curse for us in order that we might receive the blessing of the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:13-14).

This is your heart. This is, straight from the mouth of Almighty God, what your heart is. Oh, may it keep you near the cross!

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
- Jeremiah 17:9 -

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth,
and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
- Genesis 6:5 -

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God is the Gospel: A God-Centered Gospel

This post is very related to the previous two (one, two) in this series on John Piper's God is the Gospel. It really only requires a short word of introduction, and then Piper can speak for himself.

The last two posts considered what love isn't and what love is. We talked about how most people have imbibed a practical definition of love that is man-centered, and yet God's definition of love -- whether He's doing the loving or people are doing the loving -- is God-centered.

Well, closely related to the love of God is the Gospel of God. The love of God is displayed most clearly in the Gospel. But what is the Gospel, exactly?

There is so much talk today about what the Gospel is, essentially. How should it be defined? What should be included under the heading, "The Gospel"? Is our understanding of the Gospel too limited? Is our Gospel too small? Should it include things that it doesn't? Or is our understanding of the Gospel too broad? Is our Gospel too big? Are we including things under the heading "Gospel" that are really just effects or results of the Gospel?"

Those are valid questions. "If anyone preaches a different Gospel, let him be..." what? "Accursed!" What we do and don't call Gospel is a big deal.

In God is the Gospel, Piper doesn't make you guess at his definition. In it, though, he's not necessarily talking about a way we present the Gospel in evangelism; he's talking about the way we understand the Gospel, which then necessarily affects us, our lives, and how we present it when evangelizing. The Gospel of God, just like the love of God, is God-centered.

Well, how should we define the saving love of God? What makes the Gospel good news? What is a good summary-definition of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?
The saving love of God is God's commitment to do everything necessary to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying, namely Himself. (p. 13)

The gospel is good news because it announces to us that God has acted in Christ not just that we may have heaven, but so that we may have God. "Everyone who ... does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God" (2 John 9). The greatest good of the gospel is "having God" as our treasure forever. (p. 148)

The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of His Son's life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy -- namely, Himself. (p. 121)
If, in our presentation of the Gospel, we misrepresent what God was ultimately after in sending His Son Jesus, we misrepresent Him and His Word that He's revealed to us. Though the Gospel is good news to sinners, and though we sinners saved by grace receive unspeakable benefits and mercies and gifts because of Christ's atoning death and triumphant resurrection, we sinners are not the end of God's work in the Gospel.

That sound weird? What I mean is, the Gospel is presented as if man were the end, or goal, of it. We hear things like, “God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us so He could have a relationship with us.” Like I said, it's true that God demonstrates His own love for us in the death of His Son for sinners (Rom 5:8). However, the Bible presents God Himself as the end of His saving work, and not us.

Yes, God loves sinners. Yes, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1Tim 1:15). Amen! But the question we have to ask is, "Is there in Scripture any reason given for
why He came to save sinners?" Why did God send His Son to die so that all who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life? The answer is: to magnify His own worth by displaying the manifold perfections of His character. In saving sinners, God is ultimately after glory for Himself.
  • Isaiah 43:25 – I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake And I will not remember your sins.
  • Ephesians 1:5-6 – In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.
  • Titus 2:13, 14 – …our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Why does He wipe out our transgressions? To what end did He predestine us to adoption as sons? Why did Christ give Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed?

The God-centeredness of God is the good news of the Gospel.

Consider that last quote from Piper again:
The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of His Son's life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy -- namely, Himself. (p. 121)
God's end is to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy. And what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy: God Himself. And when we're happy in Him, He's honored by that. When we're enthralled with Him, He gets glory as the One who's worthy enough and delightful enough to enthrall people.

That's what God is after in His Gospel, dear friends. You, then, be after that same thing when you present His Gospel.

I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake.
- Isaiah 43:25 -

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mission Accomplished

The following video is from Christian rapper Shai Linne. (There's much that can be complained about concerning whether Christian rap is legitimate. All I have to say for now is: the man is preaching better than scores of pulpits throughout America, let alone the world, and he can do it to music and make it rhyme.)

The song is called Mission Accomplished, off of his album The Atonement. That's exactly what he's talking about in the song. The atonement has been accomplished. I could offer more commentary, but he does it really well. The lyrics are written below. Don't miss his own commentary in between verses.

Here's the video. [Please excuse the images of Christ (Ex 20:4). I couldn't find a video in which there aren't any, and I don't know how to post the audio only.]

Lord knows He tried...

Here's a controversial subject that tends to divide,
For years it's had Christians lining up on both sides.
By God's grace I'll address this without pride.
The question concerns those for whom Christ died.
Was He trying to save everybody worldwide?
Was He trying to make the entire world His bride?
Does man's unbelief keep the Savior's hands tied?
Biblically, each of these must be denied.
It’s true, Jesus gave up His life for His Bride,
But His Bride is the elect, to whom His death is applied.
If on judgment day, you see that you can’t hide,
And because of your sin, God’s wrath on you abides,
And hell is the place you eternally reside,
That means your wrath from God hasn’t been satisfied.
But we believe His mission was accomplished when He died.
But how the cross relates to those in hell?
Well, they be saying...

"Lord knows He tried."

That's what they be saying. Cats be saying that He tried. But I'm sayin... did He try? And fail? Or did He succeed? Is there going to be one drop of the Savior's blood in vain? Nah, perish the thought. The Lamb will receive the reward for His sufferings.

Father, Son and Spirit: three and yet one,
Working as a unit to get things done.
Our salvation began in eternity past,
God certainly has to bring all His purpose to pass.
A triune, eternal bond no one could ever sever,
When it comes to the church, peep how they work together:
The Father foreknew first, the Son came to earth
To die -- the Holy Spirit gives the new birth.
The Father elects them, the Son pays their debt and protects them,
The Spirit is the One who resurrects them.
The Father chooses them, the Son gets bruised for them,
The Spirit renews them and produces fruit in them.
Everybody’s not elect, the Father decides,
And it’s only the elect in whom the Spirit resides.
The Father and the Spirit: completely unified.
But when it comes to Christ and those in hell?
Well, they be saying:

"Lord knows He tried."

So if we can agree that the election of the Father is not universal and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit is not universal, why would the atonement of the Son be universal? That would put the Persons of the Trinity completely at odds with one another. But the Triune God is completely unified.

My third and final verse, here’s the situation,
Just a couple more things for your consideration.
If saving everybody was why Christ came in history,
With so many in hell, we’d have to say He failed miserably.
So many think He only came to make it possible,
Let’s follow this solution to a conclusion that’s logical.
What about those who were already in the grave?
The Old Testament wicked, condemned as depraved?
Did He die for them? C’mon, behave.
But worst of all, you’re saying the cross by itself doesn’t save.
That we must do something to give the cross its power.
That means, at the end of the day, the glory’s ours.
That man-centered thinking is not recommended.
The cross will save all for whom it was intended,
Because for the elect, God’s wrath was satisfied,
But still, when it comes to those in hell,
Well, they be saying:

"Lord knows He tried."

Look. At the end of the day, this is about giving God the maximum amount of glory. We proclaim a Cross that actually saves. Not "makes salvation possible," but actually saves. Matthew 1:21: His name shall be called Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. Not "might save them," not "try to save," but, no, He will actually save them. It's a definite atonement. This ain't controversy for the sake of controversy or theological nitpicking.

Salvation is of the Lord. To Him belongs all the glory.

Friday, September 4, 2009

God is the Gospel: God-Centered Love

Last time I endeavored, with the help of John Piper, to explode the popular doctrine accepted and propounded by our society that being loved means being made much of. It is the doctrine that says if I want to love someone, I have to make much of them.

And I lamented greatly over the fact that this definition of love has won a prominent place in the minds and hearts of many professing Christians. An overwhelming number of those in the church view the love of God in this natural, fleshly way; that is, that God's loving us means making much of us. And I displayed my utter disgust with the blasphemy that the Cross is a display of our value.

And then I asked, "So what should we see about the love of God when we see the Cross? If this is man's definition of love, and it's wrong, what is God's definition of love?" Well, man's notion of love is man-centered; it terminates on himself. God's own love is God-centered; it terminates on Him. In this post I'll present the God-centeredness of God's own love, and then from that argue that our love of others (and of God!) must be God-centered.

The God-Centered Love of God
The love of God and the gospel of God are radically God-centered. God loves us by giving us Himself to enjoy. (p. 148)
I have argued at length that to love someone is to benefit them (Jas 2:14-17; 1Jn 3:17-18; Lk 10:25-37). And I have argued at length that God Himself is everyone's greatest benefit. Therefore, for God to love us, He must give us our greatest benefit: Himself. That is how God loves: by giving the objects of His love Himself for them to enjoy (Rom 5:8; 1Pet 3:18).

One Scriptural example that Piper gives of this is in John 17, Jesus' high priestly prayer for us.
  • John 17:1-5 - Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
Piper assumes, rightly, that Jesus' love for His disciples, then-present and future, causes Him to pray for us. His prayer comes out of love. So consider the content of that prayer:
His love for us spills over in a prayer that He Himself be glorified.

[That] is not strange to those whose veil of man-centeredness has been lifted. This is the very glory for which we were made. Seeing the glory of God in Christ is the highest gift and the greatest pleasure we are capable of. Giving us this is what love is.
(p. 154)
Love is giving us the highest gift we're capable of receiving and the greatest pleasure we're capable of enjoying. The glory of God revealed in Christ is that highest gift and that greatest pleasure. Said another way:
Divine love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God in Christ. (p. 155)
Our God-Centered Love

So that's divine love. "Divine love labors and suffers..." What about our love? That's how God loves. How do we love? My answer is: exactly the same way. Read these slowly:
The aim of love -- whether by gospel word or giving up our life -- is to enthrall the beloved with the glory of Christ in the face of God forever. (p. 166)
And again:
Love is doing whatever you need to do to help people see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever and ever. (p. 153)
Let that sink in. Receive that principle, and ask yourself -- better, ask God! -- how in your life you can be doing that more and more. This is what we were called to do: to love God and love our neighbor. It is the fulfillment of the Law to be absolutely satisfied by God and then to benefit others out of that satisfaction.

Don't Get it Twisted

It's important to see that the way our love is exactly like God's love is that it is God-centered, not that we seek to make much of ourselves, like God does.
I am not an all-satisfying treasure. Therefore, if I live or die in order that you may have me as your treasure, I cheat you and deflect your heart from God, your everlasting joy. If I would love you, I must do what Jesus did. I must live and die to give you God. That's what Jesus did. That's what God does. Giving ourselves without giving God looks loving to the world. But it is not. We are a poor substitute for God. (p. 165)
If I would love you, I must do what Jesus did. I must "Love as He has loved me" (Jn 13:34). I can't love you by seeking to make you treasure me.

And in the same way, if I live or die that you may have you as your treasure (that is, if I lay down my life to make much of you), or if I treat you nicely because I want you as my treasure, I -- in the very same way -- cheat us both and deflect both our hearts from God, from our everlasting joy and deepest satisfaction!


And so, dear friends, to love someone is not to make much of them. Let us look not to the television to see what love means. Let us look and see how God has loved us. He has given us our greatest benefit: Christ died to bring us to God (1Pet 3:18)! In the same way, let us seek to love those whom we care for not by making much of them, thus clouding their vision of the glory of God with the false-glory of themselves, but by giving them their greatest benefit: God Himself.

God's highest act of love is giving us Himself to love.

To say it yet another way, love labors and, if need be, suffers to enthrall us with what is supremely and eternally satisfying, namely, God. This is true for Christ's love, and it is true for our love. Christ loves by suffering to give us God. We love by suffering to give God to others.
- John Piper -

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Our Trip to the Grand Canyon

So when planning our trip from New Jersey to Southern California, one of the places I immediately insisted being a "stopping point" along the way was the Grand Canyon. Neither Janna nor I had ever been there, and it's always heralded as such a breathtaking sight that it just seemed like an obvious stop. Plus, John Piper has referred to it numerous times in his preaching to affirm humanity's tacit awareness that being made much of is not the greatest longing of the human heart, but rather it is to be made to feel small and insignificant while beholding breathtaking glory and splendor.

So we went. Enjoy some pictures!

So close, and yet so far.

Finally, enjoy a video. Maybe it'll help give you a sense of the vastness of the Canyon.

Nobody stands on the edge of the Alps or the Rockies or the Grand Canyon in order to go there to feel better about ourselves. Do you know why you go there? Because you were [designed] to be satisfied with splendor, not self. You were created and a law written on your heart to be infinitely, eternally, fully, joyfully satisfied in a grand splendor not a great self. I plead with you lay it down. Lay down your quest for the applause of men, the approval of men, and begin to get on a quest for the one thing that will satisfy your soul—the splendor of Jesus Christ and all that God is for you in him. I just plead with you for your own soul's infinite happiness that you will stop pursuing it in the wrong place.
- John Piper -

For by Him all things were created,
both in the heavens and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--
all things
have been created through Him
and for Him.

He is before all things,
and in Him all things hold together.
He is also head of the body, the church;
and He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that He Himself will come to have
first place
in everything.

- Colossians 1:16-18 -