Friday, February 26, 2010

Him We Proclaim

Over at Christ is Deeper Still, Ray Ortlund offered some really helpful, succinct comments on Colossians 1:28: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ." "We proclaim Him" stands at the heart of a verse that explains how Paul believed the Church was to achieve the maturity of individual believers. According to Paul, the heart of the discipleship and Christian ministry is: "We proclaim Him." Ortlund looked at each of those three words one at a time (in the order they appear in the ESV: "Him we proclaim").

Him. Paul summarized his ministry in one word: “Him.” Not “Christ + _________” but Christ as the only focus. All other topics of interest had to fit in around Him and promote Him and make Him clearer. If they didn’t serve that purpose, Paul got bored quickly.

We. Whatever others may do, this is what we do. Whatever message others may shout out, we’ll shout louder about Jesus Christ. We are responsible to Him and will give an account to Him only and finally.

Proclaim. Not beg, as if He were poor. Not suggest, as if He were doubtful. Not propose, as if He were the premise of something larger. But proclaim as the only life that is truly life, accessible to everyone on terms of grace, received with the empty hands of faith, giving all, demanding all.

I just think that is so sound.

We will not dishonor the sufficiency of Christ by, in our actions, presenting something more than Him to the world and to each other. We will not present Christ and programs, or Christ and gimmicks, or Christ and coffee houses, or Christ and funny skits and videos, or Christ and rock concerts.

Neither will we dishonor the sufficiency of Christ by parroting the world as we seek to minister the Gospel. We will not market Jesus. We will not market His Church. We will not conform to the pattern of this world as we seek to build each other up in faith and to evangelize the lost. We will not seek to win the world by becoming like the world. And we will not be controlled by the world's felt needs or their opinion of us. We will recognize that we are called out of the world and so will be an aroma of Christ from life to life to His sheep whom He will call according to His sovereign decree. And we will do this by being utterly different than the world around us, just as Jesus was. (The Greek word for 'church' is ekklesia. It comes from two words: (1) ek, meaning 'out of' and (2) kaleo, meaning 'to call.' The Church is made up of the called-out ones.)

Finally, we will not dishonor the sufficiency of Christ by doing anything less than proclaiming Him. I liked Ortlund's examples. We won't beg, and thus make Jesus look poor and needy. We won't merely suggest, and thus make Him look optional. We will not merely invite, or offer, or (the favorite) share. We will proclaim.

The proclaiming, the heralding, the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the God-ordained means of accomplishing the ministry He has given to us, both to other believers and to the unbelieving world. The most solemn, severe charge in all of Scripture came from Paul to young Pastor Timothy regarding what his ministry was to be:

I solemnly charge you
in the presence of God
and of Christ Jesus,
who is to judge the living and the dead,
and by His appearing
and His kingdom:

preach the word!

Oh, may we never become more clever than the Word of God!

And may God grant swift repentance to the many thousands throughout evangelical churches today who already have.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception,
according to the tradition of men,
according to the
elementary principles of the world,
rather than according to Christ.
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
and in Him you have been made complete,
and He is the head over all rule and authority.

- Colossians 2:8-10 -

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel,
for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes.
- Romans 1:16 -

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Biblical View of the Affections

In my Pastoral Counseling class, we answered the questions in the exam for the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors as a class assignment. The following is an adapted answer from that assignment, which asked us to define affections Biblically and how they are changed Biblically. Please do mouse over and read the Scripture references as they come up.

In the Scriptures, the God of the universe has revealed that His ultimate purpose in all that He does is to bring glory to Himself (Is 42:8; 43:7, 25; 48:11; Ezek 36:22-23; Eph 1:11-12). That is, God’s will is to be worshiped by all of His creation. To that end, He created human beings to be worshiping creatures so that they might “honor Him as God [and] give thanks” (Rom 1:21)
. Therefore, all of life – especially the Christian life – is about worship. Progress in sanctification comes when our worship of God increases and matures. Sin is made manifest when we worship anything other than God (cf. Rom 1:20-25).

Having understood that life is about worship, we begin to see the importance of affections in living the Christian life. As worship is at the heart of life, so the affections are at the heart of worship. We worship what we desire, what we love, what we delight in. And that worship shapes our actions. “Our words and actions are shaped by our pursuit of the things our hearts crave. … What we worship determines our responses to all our experiences” (Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, p. 67). Jesus testifies to this reality when He simply says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21; Lk 12:34). You will serve with all your being that which you treasure. When your treasure is not God, you commit idolatry (cf. Ezek 14:1-5), and it is idolatry of the heart – the worship of the creature rather than the Creator – that is the core of all sin (Rom 1:25; cf. Deut 29:2-4; 30:6; Jer 31:33; Ezek 6:9; 36:26).

Therefore, when a Biblical counselor (or any Christian) seeks to aid in another’s sanctification and mortification of sin, the battle must be fought at the level of the affections, or the desires. For example, if a counselee’s sin problem is greed, it is because his desire for money rules his heart rather than the desire to know Christ. Or if his sin problem is lust or sexual immorality, it is because he believes that mental or physical sexual stimulation will satisfy his desires more than will the glory of God in Christ.

The counselor must seek, then, to transform the counselee’s heart, his affections. He must be shown that the desires and the affections that he seeks to satisfy with sin are actually most fully satisfied by knowing Jesus Christ. This is how Jesus Himself instructs us to battle covetousness. He commands that we “make [ourselves] money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven” (Lk 12:33). He does not simply command us to stop desiring possessions; He redirects our desire to something greater, to something that will fully satisfy us, to treasure in heaven, to Himself. The Apostle Paul is strengthened to press on in the Christian life in this very same way. He counts all idols – all substitute pleasures – as loss that He may gain Christ and know Him (Phil 3:7-11). David’s righteousness came from his singularity of focus; that is, he desired and sought one thing: to behold the beauty of Yahweh and to meditate in His temple (Ps 27:4). Moses fled from the idolatry of Egypt because he considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Heb 11:26). And so it is throughout Scripture.

Therefore, emotions and affections (and thus actions) are changed Biblically when the worthiness and delightfulness of the beauty of Christ is exalted in the heart of the Christian. Affections are changed when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened to know the riches of the glory of the inheritance of God (Eph 1:18). When that happens, the promise of pleasure from sin looks so paltry in comparison to the treasure chest of holy joy found in Christ. Affections are set right, God is worshiped in Christ, and that life of worship controls all we do (Mk 7:18-23) and say (Lk 6:44-45).

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Atonement: Real or Potential?

This past Sunday morning was a communion Sunday at Grace Community Church, and so John MacArthur took a break from his regular series in the Gospel of Mark and preached a sermon called, "The Atonement: Real or Potential?"

I thought it was an extremely helpful presentation of the Biblical doctrine of the particularity of the atonement of Jesus Christ. What was happening on the cross from a divine perspective? Why and for whom did Christ die?

I encourage you to download the sermon. It is well worth the listen.

And you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
- Matthew 1:21 -

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Second Century Church Service

The following is a quote in which church father Justin Martyr is explaining Christianity to the Roman emperor, making the case that Christianity should not be illegal. In the course of his First Apology (ca. AD 150), he describes a typical church service in the middle of the second century.

On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president [pastor] in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the ‘Amen.’ A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.

For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Such a quote silences a lot of speculative talk about how Church should be "done." We get a pretty good idea of what a church service looked like within only 60 years of the apostolic age.

  1. All the people in a given locale gathered together on Sunday.
  2. Someone read from the Scriptures. Sometimes they read from the New Testament -- the "memoirs of the apostles," as Justin calls them -- and the Old Testament -- called "the writings of the prophets."
  3. The pastor preached a sermon, exhorting the people to obey the things they just heard read from the Word of God.
  4. They had congregational prayer.
  5. They celebrated the Lord's Table.
  6. They had pastoral prayer.
  7. They sang in worship.
  8. They received an offering to meet the needs of those around them.
  9. And Justin again makes the point that they worshiped on Sunday.

Love the Church, dear friends.

O Yahweh, I love the habitation of Your house
And the place where Your glory dwells.
Do not take my soul away along with sinners,
Nor my life with men of bloodshed,
In whose hands is a wicked scheme,
And whose right hand is full of bribes.
But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
Redeem me, and be gracious to me.
My foot stands on a level place;
In the congregations I shall bless Yahweh.
- Psalm 26:8-12 -

Friday, February 12, 2010

Smiting Moralism with Gospel Joy

Just a phenomenal 6-minute presentation of everything I want my life to be about.

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ,
so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

- Romans 7:4-6 -

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Obedient Disobedience, Part 4

One last post on obedient disobedience (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

Our detractor responds, "You're making this too complicated. God is our Father. We are His children. We just need to obey Him. It's like me and my son. He just needs to do what I say. Because he's my son, and I'm his dad. I tell him, 'Please clean up your room.' Then he needs to do it. If he doesn't, he's disobeying. Period."

And again, I agree as before. I'm not saying at all that if we simply don't feel like obeying God that that's any excuse for our disobedience. I'm actually upping the ante. I'm saying that we can do what God says, in one sense, and still be disobeying Him. I'm saying that we can "obey" on the outside and hate it. And I'm saying that that's not how the Bible presents Christ or the Christian life under the New Covenant to us. I'm saying that the New Testament authors speak to us like this: "You're His son; He's your Dad. You know Him! You've tasted His goodness! You know He's worthy to be loved with all your heart! Based on that relationship, obey joyfully!"

I agree that if you tell your son to clean his room and he doesn't do it, he's disobeyed. And nothing like, "Well, I didn't feel like it" excuses him. 100% agreed.

But here's the question: If he cleans his room -- and does all his other chores -- every time you ask him, but as he does them is grumbling, and thinking to himself about how you're such a slave driver, and how it's really annoying how you ask him to do things he doesn't wanna do all the time, and the only way to avoid trouble is to do what you ask... is he obeying then? Is it obedience for him to drag himself off the couch away from his TV, or computer, or X-Box, and to clean his room while thinking about how much he'd rather be doing something else?

I would say, "No way. He's not obeying at all."

And if even you would say he is obeying (after all, the room is getting cleaned up), can you honestly say, dear detractor, that as his father, you are honored by such "obedience"?

I'd have a hard time believing you'd say yes. And that's my point. God doesn't say yes either. He proclaims that He is more worthy and more satisfying, and more pleasant, and more beautiful than to be forced upon someone begrudgingly. "Obeying" God as if His commandments are burdensome is to disobey "obediently." Obeying God joyfully is actually finding Him to be as delightful as He is.

May God grant you and me a heart to delight in Him.

This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.

- Isaiah 29:13 -

I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.
- Psalm 40:8 -

My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.

- John 4:34 -

Friday, February 5, 2010

Piper on What to Do with Obedient Disobedience

Obedient Disobedience, Part 3

So after writing the two previous posts (Part 1, Part 2), I opened John Piper's Taste and See devotional, as I've been going through it semi-regularly. The chapter I was on was entitled, "When Your 'Want To' Doesn't Match Your 'Ought To'." This is Piper's take on what to do about obedient disobedience.

If your "want to" does not conform to God's "ought to," what can you do to have peace? I see at least five possible strategies.

1. You can avoid thinking about the "ought to." This is the most common strategy in the world. Most people simply do not devote energy to pondering what they should be doing that they are not doing. It's easier to just keep the radio on.
This is where the world is. This is the kind of thing that goes on (mostly) outside the church. Though this is a problem, this hasn't been my focus.
2. You can reinterpret the "ought to" so that it sounds just like your "want to." This is a little more sophisticated and so not as common. It usually takes a college education to do this with credibility, and a seminary degree to do it with finesse. (And I believe strongly in both college and seminary!)
This also is a common worldly strategy, and it's usually employed by those who do not have a high view of Scripture but want to pat themselves on the back for being 'obedient' to God. Again, though this issue is important, it hasn't been my biggest concern.
3. You can muster the willpower to do a form of the "ought to" even though you don't have the heart of the "want to." This generally looks pretty good, and is often mistaken as virtue, even by those who do it. In fact, there is a whole worldview that says doing "ought to's" without "want to" is the essence of virtue. The problem with this is that Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver," which puts the merely "ought-to givers" in a precarious position.
This is where those who practice 'obedient disobedience' live most of the time. This strategy is employed by born again, orthodox, conservative evangelical brothers and sisters who love God's Word and have a real desire to see God glorified. But they've been taught, "You just obey your Lord. It doesn't matter how you feel." And Piper's right. That does sound virtuous. Self-denial, doing hard things. It certainly takes a person of... well... strong will... to do that. But this is not Biblical obedience. This is the focus of my previous two posts. A lot of believers -- sound in nearly every other area of doctrine -- find themselves in this category. Examine yourself. Are you in this category? (I was.)
4. You can feel proper remorse that the "want to" is very small and weak - like a mustard seed - and then, if it lies within you, do the "ought to" by the exertion of will, while repenting that the "want to" is weak, and praying that the "want to" will soon be restored. Perhaps it will even be restored in doing the "ought to." This is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy hides one of the two contradictory impulses. Virtue confesses them both in the hope of grace.
This is what I suggested in Part 2. Not having the "want to" doesn't change the "ought to." Yet even as we do the "ought to" we must repent of our sin: that is, that the "want to" isn't there for us.
5. You can seek, by the means of grace, to have God give the "want to" so that when the time comes to do the "ought to," you will "want to." Ultimately, the "want to" is a gift of God. "The mind of the flesh is hostile to God . . . it is not able to submit to the law of God" (Romans 8:7). "The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God . . . because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14). "Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25).

Amen. This is what we need to be doing. And we need to be seeking this gift of God as we practice strategy #4. We obey, confessing as sin our slowness of heart to believe that Jesus is as delightful as He says He is, while pleading with God to give us the gift of a clear vision of Him so that we will "want to."

Piper's conclusion is extremely helpful:

The Biblical doctrine of original sin boils down to this (to borrow from St. Augustine): We are free to do what we like, but we are not free to like what we ought to like. "Through the one man's disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). This is who we are. And yet we know from our own soul and from the Bible that we are accountable for the corruption of our bad "want to's." Indeed, the better you become, the more you feel ashamed of being bad and not just doing bad. As N.P. Williams said, "The ordinary man may feel ashamed of doing wrong: but the saint, endowed with a superior refinement of moral sensibility, and keener powers of introspection, is ashamed of being the kind of man who is liable to do wrong" (First Things, #87, Nov. 1998, p. 24).

God's free and sovereign heart-changing work is our only hope. Therefore we must pray for a new heart. We must pray for the "want to" - "Incline my heart to Your testimonies" (Psalm 119:36). "Make glad the soul of your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul" (Psalm 86:4). He has promised to do it: "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes" (Ezekiel 36:27). This is the new covenant bought by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:15). "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help [us want to do what we ought to do] in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
May God incline our hearts to Him.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Obedient Disobedience, Part 2

So I spent Friday's post outlining how much of what we might think of as obedience in our Christian lives, from a Biblical perspective, may not be obedience at all. We can, in response to the commands of Christ, read our Bibles, go to church, and spend time in prayer, and we can think we've obeyed Him. "He said to do those things, and I did them. I'm OK!" But if you read your Bible, went to church, and spent time in prayer simply because that was the right thing to do, but you were really burdened by doing all those things, then you actually have fallen short of Biblical obedience.

The Application

Having said all that, let me add the following.

Though truly God-honoring obedience comes out of delighting in Him, I also do know that there are times when we don't always feel like He's delightful. That's obviously because we've still got the presence of sin in our flesh. Our 'fleshiness' (that is, the presence of indwelling sin that the believer struggles against) sometimes -- even oftentimes -- gets the upper hand and renders us as if we were blind. It clouds our vision. We wind up delighting in things that aren't delightful (i.e., sin) and being bored by things that are absolutely thrilling (i.e., Christ). Or, as Paul puts it, we do what we do not want to do, and the very thing we do is that which we hate (Rom 7:14-25).

The question is, then, at those times when our flesh does get the upper hand and we don't feel like reading our Bibles, or praying, or going to church, should we just not do those things because it would be "obedient disobedience"? Given all I've said, do I say that unless we feel all warm and fuzzy about it, we should never obey God?

I answer with an emphatic, "No! We should indeed act in obedience to God and do those things!"

If faced with the opportunity to obey God, and you survey your soul and see your sin and it says to you that you're not delighting in Him, and that your obedience would be burdensome, I say, "Do it anyway." I say that for at least two reasons.
  1. The principle of grace in sanctification -- and obeying Christ out of delight and not duty -- never translates somehow into license for not obeying Him. That is, disobeying the command to rejoice in the Lord always is never an excuse for disobeying another command that He gives. Do not yield to the slavery of your flesh; if you do, your affections will never catch up with your actions.
  2. The second reason you should obey Him even when you don't feel like it is because what will happen -- invariably -- is that God will be gracious, and just by the beauty of Himself will win your affections... sometimes even in the process of doing what you didn't feel like doing.

So, I wake up in the morning and am tired. And because of the presence of sin -- my remaining fleshliness -- I don't feel like spending time with my Savior by reading His Word and worshiping Him in prayer. First of all, that's insane. I'm demonstrating that my sinfulness has clouded my vision such that I see the most awesome Person in the universe as boring. But, nonetheless, I don't feel like reading and praying. But, God is gracious to me, and He reminds me of His commands, and that I should obey Him. So, I walk downstairs, wishing I was in bed, or on the computer, and I read my Bible and I pray.

I'm saying, at that point, I must recognize that I've disobeyed Him. I have not kept His commandments as if they were not burdensome (1Jn 5:3), but as if they were very burdensome. He is not honored by such "obedience." I may have "obeyed" on the outside. I opened my Bible. I read it. I prayed. But I did not obey from the heart. My obedience was owing less to the glory and delightfulness of God in Christ, and more to my own guilty conscience and will power.

But, at the same time, it would have been wrong for me to go back to bed, or go open my computer, or turn on the TV, and say to myself, "I don't want to dishonor God by not obeying Him from the heart, so I'm not going to do what He says at all." No! Do indeed act as free men, as the Apostle Peter Says, but "do not use your freedom as a covering for evil" (1Pet 2:16). Rather, "use it as bondslaves of God." Don't add disobedience to disobedience! If you do, your disobedience will harden your heart and you'll never obey out of delight. And besides, even when I come to the Bible as if it isn't delightful, God is invariably gracious to me, and by the end of my Bible reading time, I've seen Him, and I'm thankful that I read His Word. He wins me over, and produces in me those very affections that I couldn't work up on my own.

What To Do

So, the take-away is: confess your obedient disobedience as sin. Confess to Christ that you haven't found Him as delightful, and as glorious, and as pleasant, and as satisfying as He actually is. Confess that that is your problem, and ask Him to overcome your fleshliness. Ask for grace to obey from the heart... that you would be so filled with all that God is for you in Christ, that satisfaction from that fullness would overflow into joyful obedience and delightful service. Tozer puts it this way:
O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold Thee in full splendor in the day when Thou shalt appear to be glorified in Thy saints and admired in all them that believe. Amen.
Then, our obedience wouldn't make much of our will power, but it would make much of the glory of God in the face of Christ, which, as we behold it, transforms us into Christlikeness.

May God give us the grace that it would be so.

But we all, with unveiled face,
as in a mirror
the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed
into the same image
from glory to glory,
just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 -

UPDATE: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4