Friday, July 30, 2010

Around the Table of the King

In our most recent communion service at Grace Church we sang the following song as the elements were being passed out. It's a song co-written by Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty entitled "Behold the Lamb (Communion Hymn)." The last line of the chorus, "Around the table of the King," always gets me though, and so wins the title of the blog post.

What a great reality to ponder! We have such sweet, intimate fellowship with our Savior, whom we killed and deserved nothing of, that we can be described as eating Him as the Bread of Life (Jn 6:51) and drinking Him as the Water of Life (Jn 4:10, 13-14; 7:37-38), whose blood is true drink (Jn 6:55-56), in whose blood are all the blessings of the New Covenant (Lk 22:20; cf. Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:25-27). And we enjoy such fellowship "around the table of the King." We were rebels -- treasonous, murderous enemies of this King. And now we celebrate our reconciliation with Him around His own lavish table! Praise be to God for His glorious grace!

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us: and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.

So we share in this Bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice,
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Savior, Jesus Christ,
Torn for you: eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life,
Paid the price to make us one.

So we share in this Bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice,
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you: drink and remember
He drained death’s cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.

So we share in this Bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice,
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith
We rise to respond: and to remember.
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.

As we share in His suffering,
We proclaim: Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King!

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks,
He broke it and gave it to them, saying,
"This is My body which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of Me."
And in the same way He took the cup
after they had eaten, saying,
"This cup which is poured out for you
is the new covenant in My blood."

- Luke 22:19-20 -

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Caveat and Some Applications

I'm taking a break from the regularly scheduled Repentance series this Tuesday to tack a few extra thoughts onto Friday's post on pursuing First Things first. My point there was that as we consider how to love our neighbor as ourselves, and so fulfill the Law (Mt 7:12; Mt 22:40; Rom 13:8; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8), it leads us into the discovery that we fulfill the Second Greatest commandment by pursuing the First: to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Because "by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" (1Jn 5:2). The way we love people is by loving God.

That is, when we are so consumed with the glory of Jesus Christ, when He becomes our All in all, and when our hearts are captured to just seek Him first, in our satisfaction we proclaim Him, and our lives tell the truth about His sweetness. We manifest the glory of God, because our lives are a product of seeing Him. And we prefer Him more than we prefer the deceptive satisfaction-substitute that comes from sin. That is loving the world. Because the greatest good that can be done to the world is to see Jesus Christ. And when we esteem Him rightly and prefer Him, we present Him to everyone around us as He is: as supremely desirable, supremely beautiful, supremely attractive, supremely compelling, supremely preferable.

To be satisfied in Christ, then, is to love the world; because we present to them what gives them most joy and what is most satisfying. When we love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, in that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Love for people overflows from love for God. And if it doesn’t start there, we have become idolaters, and therefore cannot benefit them. If your love for people starts with them, you have failed to love them, because you have failed to love Him. Just as Lewis said:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

And so we need to have this complex, brain-bending, deep-into-the-soil-of-Scripture theology undergirding our love for people. If we American pragmatists ignore this First-Things-First lesson, and tell people to just go out and love people and perform acts of service because that’s 'what Jesus would do,' we totally blow it. We pursue secondary things first, and lose both the first and secondary things.

A Caveat

Now, some people will read this and believe that I’m saying that we should forget about loving and serving people. They'll hear me saying that it’s really loving God that matters, and if you love God, you’re automatically loving people. So you don’t have to actually do anything. But that is emphatically not what I’m saying.

A couple of months ago, my wife and I took a road trip up the California coast from Santa Monica up to San Francisco via the beloved Pacific Coast Highway. That highway is exhibit A of how we can be sure that the west coast was populated after the east coast. Somebody thought enough to put a highway right next to the ocean. I mean what a beautiful drive it was. Now, our 8-hour drive was chock full of sighs, and wows, and calls from one to the other to "Look at that!" You'd think that we'd get tired of being so impressed! But that wasn't the case. The beauty of God's creation in the ocean, in the mountains, in the grass, in the rocks, in the trees, in the flowers, and in the clouds was absolutely stunning. And we couldn't help but talk about it! What we learned from that drive is that true beauty compels praise. When you look at something that is glorious, the delight it produces in you wells up into expression.

In the same way, when you behold the glory of Christ, the affections that are created in you from such satisfaction and such beauty necessarily find expression in your life. By definition, you don’t look at something that is beautiful and remain unaffected. Beauty compels action. Whether you’re proclaiming to people how beautiful and satisfying God is, or whether the glory of God motivates you to go out and serve people, it’s going to compel you to be a practical benefit to people. So don't think I'm trying to give myself and others a free pass to not serving people, to not loving our neighbor as ourselves. I don't mean that at all. My point is simply that it’s got to be in the proper order; we must pursue first things first, otherwise we’re idolaters. Our love for people must be God-centered.


So with that in mind, I want to make some applications of this First-Things-First principle. Here are some things you can do to love your neighbor as yourself by presenting to them their greatest benefit: God in Christ Himself.

the Word of God daily, because it’s in the Word that you behold the beauty of Christ. Show people that He is so satisfying, that He delightfully compels you to seek Him out in His Word.

daily, because it’s in prayer that you have communion and fellowship with God, and it’s in prayer that that relationship thrives. Show people that He is so beautiful and satisfying that He makes it a joy for you to give up an hour of your busy schedule to pray.

Be in church on Sunday, because it’s in the fellowship of the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day that gives particular expression to the glory of God as it manifests the work of God’s grace in these people’s lives, and is the pinnacle of the worship of God, which is the most satisfying thing we can do. Show people that He is so satisfying that He makes it a pleasant thing to get up at
6:30 on a Sunday morning.

with each other, because it’s an opportunity for believers to present that glory of Christ to each other, by speaking the Word to each other and even rebuking each other when we see that it will benefit each other.

And open your mouth and preach the Gospel to those who don’t know Christ, because (1) as you speak His message you savor the Person and the work of Christ that saved you, and (2) the preaching of the Gospel is how other people get saved, and how more people come to worship God as He deserves. Show people that He is so satisfying that it’s a joyful honor to risk being thought of as weird or a religious nut in order to preach this message both to strangers and to people we’ve known for years.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And out of that love, love your neighbor as yourself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

First Things First

As some of you know, it was my study of the Greatest and Second Greatest commandments (as laid out by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40), that spurred me on to start this blog. If you haven't read those two original posts (first, and second), I'd encourage you to do so. For this post, it will be particularly helpful to read the second, as it's in that context that the following quotes from C. S. Lewis make sense.

But just in case you don't want to click over, I'll reproduce a relevant portion of that post here. In studying how it is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, I looked at how the nature of (1) The Father's love, (2) the love Jesus showed while He was on earth, and (3) the love believers are commanded to show are all summed up in the concept of benefit. The Father loves by benefiting (Rom 5:8), Jesus loved by benefiting (Mt 9:18-35, Mk 6:30-34, Lk 22:49, etc.), and we are commanded to love by benefiting (Lk 6:27-31; Jas 2:14-17; 1Jn 3:17-18).

But when I asked how it is that I am to benefit my neighbor, I kept running up against this concept in the Bible that I fulfill the Second Greatest Commandment by pursuing -- not it -- but the First. How do I love my neighbor as myself? I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Principally, I get that from 1 John 5:2: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

But this principle of "You get Secondary Things by pursuing First Things first" is confirmed in many other passages of Scripture as well. From that post, slightly modified:
  • Matthew 6:33 - Considering the Greatest Commandments as commandments required to be obeyed, Jesus says just to seek first the kingdom and His righteousness. Be consumed with loving God with all that you are. And all other things – which are all summed up in “Love your neighbor as yourself” – will be added unto as you just seek Him first.
  • Leviticus 19:14, 32; 25:43 - As a grounding for commands to practically benefit their neighbor, God continually says to Israel, “You shall revere your God.” Reverence for God is the basis for loving one’s neighbor. You will get the Secondary Things if you pursue the First Things.
  • Luke 10:38-42 - Martha is worried about many secondary things. Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part, as she's chosen to pursue First Things first.
  • Colossians 3:1-4 - Here we are commanded to be so consumed with heavenly things because that is where Christ is. And if you look at the context, it is this command to seek First Things first that is the ground for all of the practical directives on how to love each other from Colossians 3:12 all the way to the end of the body of the letter in Colossians 4:6.
  • Psalm 27:4 - When David declares that the beauty of God is the one thing in his life that demands his affection and allegiance, I am benefited -- I am loved -- by David’s singularity of focus. I see his all-consuming desire to just behold the beauty of God, and I am thereby helped to see God more clearly, treasure Him more fully, and enjoy Him more fully. And that is my greatest benefit! To know God! So it can properly be said that David loves me by displaying to me his love for God. He accomplishes love for his neighbor, a Secondary Thing, by pursuing First Things first.
Now, with all that in mind, I came across a couple of C. S. Lewis quotes the other day that speak to this very same issue, and I was greatly benefited by seeing how his thoughts, independent from my own, affirmed this very doctrine that I am teaching: that we love -- or benefit -- our neighbor most when we love God most. They are from multiple sources.
From a 1952 letter: “When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

From God in the Dock, pp. 278-281: “The longer I looked into it the more I came to suspect that I was perceiving a universal law...the woman who makes a dog the center of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all his power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication. It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman – glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens? [Implied: You are disappointed.] Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good [instead of] a great, or a partial good [instead of] a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.

Apparently the world is made that way... You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, What things are first? is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone... if we do not know, then the first and only truly practical thing is to set about finding out.”

From Mere Christianity, pp.134-135: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.

It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more – food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilization [love our neighbor, care for the least of these] as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

He's saying precisely what Paul says in Colossians 3:1-4:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

We are to set our minds on the things above, and not on the things on earth, because that is where Christ is. And our life is in Him. Do you want to love people? Good! Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and you will love your neighbor as yourself. Pursue First Things first, and the Secondary Things will be "added unto you."

Many folks balk at this notion. One application in particular that I'd like to make, though, is to those who call themselves "missional," and sound the call for the Church's role in achieving social justice. They call attention to the fact that the eternal state will be enjoyed here on a renewed earth by Christians with glorified physical bodies -- that Heaven won't be our disembodied spirits in a ghost world. And based on this they conclude that God is concerned not only about the spiritual but the physical. And so we should be concerned not just about the spiritual, but the physical. As such, the preservation of the environment, social structures, and fallen human culture is erroneously thrust to the forefront of the Church's mission.

Well, it’s true that He is coming to redeem this earth. But if we follow that line of reasoning, we will be seeking to achieve secondary goals -- some of them great, Biblical, necessary goals, but secondary goals -- by pursuing them first, rather than by pursuing First Things first and seeing the second things "thrown in," as Lewis says. We'll never save society as long as society is our main object." And as Paul says, our 'setting-our-mind' energy is to be focused entirely on Christ. When He’s here, then we can set our minds on the things that are on earth because He will be on earth. But until then, we set our minds on things above because that’s where He is. Oh we most certainly run this race, but we fix our eyes on Jesus as we run this race (Heb 12:2)!

It’s exactly as Lewis, following the Apostle Paul, following Jesus, says it: the first thing is Christ. Seek Him first, and all these things will be added to you.

By this we know that we love the children of God,
when we love God
and observe His commandments.

- 1 John 5:2 -

(Click here for a follow-up post.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Counsel to a Sinning Brother

In our series on the doctrine of Biblical repentance, we've discussed a lot of what the Bible has to say concerning the nature of true repentance. Most recently, we distinguished between repentance and penance, and discussed how we might avoid penance and arrive at true repentance.

As we go further, it will be helpful to remove these principles from the realm of the abstract and theoretical and apply them to an actual counseling situation. Such a counseling situation might be a time of formal, pastoral counseling where a church member has come to his or her pastor for guidance. But it may also be a one-on-one, layperson-to-layperson discipleship situation. Ideally, exchanges like these are constantly taking place in the lives of individual Christians within the body of Christ. Though I will make primary application to the formal counseling situation, I'd hasten to say that the following could also take place between a sinning brother and a mature, Bible-saturated brother.

And so let us take for an example a church member, Jim, who has confessed to an immoral affair. How do the principles of Biblical repentance presented in previous posts apply when counseling a man such as this? How can we lead Jim to genuine repentance and away from the dangers of functional penance?

After an opening session in which I have had time to listen to Jim’s story and why he decided to come for counseling (Pr 18:13), I would be up front with him that among my goals for counseling would be that (1) he repent of his sins according to the teaching of God’s Word, (2) be prepared to be restored to fellowship with God and in his local church, and (3) ultimately would increase in Christlikeness. This would involve some instruction – both during the sessions and for homework – about the nature of Biblical repentance. I would ask him to look up particular verses about repentance (as presented in the previous posts) and draw conclusions about what Biblical repentance looks like. This way, when he sees me looking for appropriate sorrow, a desire to change, etc., he will understand that I am not the authority, but that I am seeking for both of us to submit to the authority of the Word of God.

First, it is important that Jim admit that he has sinned against God and against his wife and express a desire to confess that sin as sin. I would seek to draw out of him the effect that his sin has had on his soul by presenting to Him the loveliness of Christ. I would hope to lead him to see the repulsiveness of sin in the attractive light of God’s holiness. Thus, I would look for the godly sorrow and the mourning that characterizes Biblical repentance, and would be on guard against excuses that attempt to rationalize his sin. Does he feel genuinely sorry for what he has done? And does that sorrow compel him to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness?

Here, though, we must guard against the pride of false humility. There is a true shame that Jim should feel as a result of his sin. However, “the pain ought to be there, but it ought not to stay there” (John Piper, Future Grace, 137). The sinning woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume felt an appropriate shame for her sin, but when Jesus declares that her sins are forgiven He declares that her shame is over.

He declared that past pardon would now yield future peace. So the issue for her was faith in this future grace rooted in the authority of Jesus’ forgiving work and freeing word. Would she believe the glowering condemnation of the guests? Or would she believe the reassuring words of Jesus that her shame was over—that she is now and in the future forgiven, that she may go in peace and wholeness and freedom? Whom will she trust? With whose promise will satisfy her soul? (Piper, Future Grace, 138)
This will be the issue for Jim as well. Will he wallow in prideful self-condemnation, or will the apprehension of the glory of the grace of Christ compel Him to trust in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for sin? I must lead Jim through appropriate feelings of shame to faith in the promise that his sins have been forgiven.

Following this, I would encourage him and help him get to a point where his desire is to turn from the sin of immorality. I would want to equip him to purpose, in the Spirit and by God’s grace, to repudiate his sin. I would be looking for a genuine desire in him that wants nothing to do with further immoral relationships.

And corresponding to his turn from sin, I would hope to lead Jim to turn to God in Christ. By exalting the beauty and the sweetness of Christ, I would present to Jim the Lord’s easy yoke and light burden in comparison to the oppressive yoke and terrible burden of his sin (Mt 11:28-30). Here we would study the forgiveness of God and the restored fellowship with Him that comes by turning to Him. This is where I would want Jim to experience a change of functional lordship in his life; that is, that he would consciously seek to be a slave of his Lord Jesus and not of his old slave master: sin. I would labor to show him that the issue is ultimately one of idolatry, and that he must forsake the worship of the idols of sexual pleasure, stimulation, and acceptance, and return to worship the one true God in Christ Jesus. These exhortations must be laced with pleas to behold the objective beauty of Christ, because no change of allegiance will occur unless Jim’s heart delights in Jesus more than he delights in sin.

Finally, with such a foundation, I would lead him through the implications of his repentance. We would study the necessary obedience that accompanies true repentance, and that the Lord expects that repentant sinners bear fruits in keeping with repentance. We would work through the Ephesians 4 paradigm of putting off and putting on, considering the changes in activities, associations, and lifestyle that are necessary to putting off immorality. He would need to confess his sin to his wife, actively seek to be reconciled to her, and be willing to do whatever he could rebuild that broken relationship. He would also need to cut off all ties with his mistress – except maybe to ask her forgiveness – and burn those bridges to prevent later backsliding. It would also be appropriate to set up marriage counseling for Jim and his wife, if she was willing. Finally, I would seek to equip Jim to cultivate the humility and the joy necessary to be restored to his local church. I would look for a willingness to come under the loving rule of his elders, as well as his ability to use his gifts to minister to the body.

Throughout this process it is imperative that Jim know that he is not earning his forgiveness by his efforts. I must be explicit that the many imperatives that we discuss are grounded by the indicatives of what Christ has done objectively in the Gospel. I must labor to show him both the futility of attempting a self-atonement and the freedom of receiving a susbtitutionary atonement. I must constantly pursue Jim’s heart, and not merely his actions. Thus, I will watch out for begrudging obedience on his part, and I will present the sight of Christ’s glory as more satisfying to the soul than the passing faux-pleasures of sin. Thus, by God’s grace, his repentance will produce joyful obedience issuing from the heart, indicating that a true 'change of mind' has taken place. Richard Baxter provides a helpful summary:

If he appear to be truly sensible of the sinfulness of his conduct, and penitent on account of it, we must see that he confess his guilt, and that he promise to fly from such sins for the time to come, to watch more narrowly and to walk more warily, to avoid temptation, to distrust his own strength, and to rely on the grace which is in Christ Jesus. We must assure him of the riches of God’s love, and the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to pardon his sins, if he believe and repent. (Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor [Banner of Truth: PA, 1981], 109)
How to Evaluate Genuine Repentance

The above case study provides a good example for how I would encourage the elders of my church to evaluate the genuine repentance of a repentant member (cf.
John Street, “The Danger of Neglecting Repentance,” Journal of Modern Ministry 5 [Spring 2008]: 27-28).

In the intellectual or cognitive domain, it should be evident that Jim understands which specific Biblical principles he has transgressed, acknowledges it as sin, and can articulate changes in his life as well as a plan for dealing with future temptations. In the emotional or affective domain, the elders should look for genuine, godly remorse that has led to his seeking forgiveness from God and other offended parties, a pervading humility as a result of his sinfulness, and a desire to be restored to fellowship with other believers. Finally, in the volitional or behavioral domain, the elders should be able to observe fruits in keeping with repentance. Jim himself, as well as his Christian friends, should be able to testify of a change in his lifestyle, and his wife should be able to testify to his desire to rebuild their relationship. There should be an evident delight in fellowship with Christ as evidenced by his joyful, willing obedience in the context of the local church.

Biblical Repentance: Introduction

1. Exegesis
1.1. Nacham: Biblical Repentance Involves the Emotions
1.2. Shuv: The Heart's Obedient Turn from Sin to God
1.3. Metanoeo: A Fundamental Change of the Whole Man

2. Discussion
2.1. Summary and Discussion: Intellectual, Emotional, Volitional
2.2. Repentance for the Christian

3. Application
3.1. Repentance vs. Penance
3.2. Counsel to a Sinning Brother

Friday, July 16, 2010

Apologetics and the Demand for Evidence

I'm a presuppositional apologist.

Or, at least, I believe that the presuppositional model of apologetics is the Biblical model of apologetics. I reject the idea that the way we are to persuade skeptics of the truth of God's existence, His Word, His acts of providence, etc. is by presenting historical, archaeological, scientific, and other kinds of external evidence to them. And I explain why I believe that here. In short, evidentialist apologetics is entirely inconsistent with what the Scripture teaches about the nature of man, what he can know, the nature of knowledge, and the doctrine of salvation.

And so I'm a presuppositionalist. That is, I believe that there are certain presuppositions that Christians must consistently hold to without wavering even when reasoning with unbelievers about the truth of God's Word and of Jesus Christ. Such presuppositions are: God exists; He is who He says He is; the Bible is perfect, the inspired Word of God, infallible, and inerrant; Jesus rose from the dead three days after being crucified; etc. These are not topics that God has left open for debate. God never presents Himself in Scripture as a proposition to be evaluated and decided over. You never get to tell God, "Wait a sec, let me see if You really do exist." He simply asserts, "I AM WHO I AM." Trying to evaluate the evidence for God outside of Scripture or trying to evaluate the evidence for the veracity of Scripture is an endeavor on the order of asking to measure a ruler (or, if you're on the metric system, a meter-stick). You don't measure the instrument of measurement. It does the measuring.

However, at the same time, I don't believe it's right for Christians to dichotomize faith and concrete knowledge. That is, I disagree with the assertion that the existence of real evidence for what we believe necessarily undermines the need for faith. What I am saying is that the Christian and the skeptic define "real evidence" in two different ways. I'd like to explain what I mean with the help of Jonathan Edwards.

I agree with Edwards when he says our faith must be grounded upon a reasonable conviction. "By a reasonable conviction I mean a conviction founded on real evidence, or upon that which is good reason, or just ground of conviction." That is, Christians should not simply blindly accept things and pat ourselves on the back for being 'faithful.' That's more a willful naivete than anything.

But the question is, where does that evidence come from? What qualifies as evidence? Let's say you're dialoguing with a naturalist about creation vs. evolution, or even the the existence of God. The naturalist responds that evidence must be materially empirical. It has to be physically observable and testable; i.e., it has to meet the standards and presuppositions of the naturalist.

But Edwards doesn't define evidence that way. He says, "The gospel of the blessed God does not go abroad a begging for its evidence, so much as some think: it has its highest and most proper evidence in itself."

That is such a glorious statement. Do you feel the weight of that? Read it again if you don't.

See, the natural instinct of both the naturalist and, sadly, many contemporary Christians, is to go outside of the Scriptures themselves when trying to prove their genuineness. That's precisely what evidential apologists do. But what Edwards is saying is that the Word of God itself is so self-authenticatingly glorious that the very glory of it is its own evidence.

See, rationalists appeal to reason as the source of knowledge. That's what makes them rationalists. Naturalists appeal to nature as the source of knowledge. That's what makes them naturalists. But Christians must appeal to the Scriptures as the source of knowledge. That is what makes us Christians. If I ask a rationalist for evidence for his credence in rationalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he's going to give me a reason. If I ask a naturalist for evidence for his credence in naturalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he's going to give me a summary of observable facts of nature. They're just being consistent with their epistemology. But when they demand evidence of Scripture's genuineness and we Christians give them a Bible verse, they shout, "Circular reasoning!" But it's no more circular than what they do; it's simply remaining consistent with one's own epistemology.

What the skeptic doesn't realize when he demands evidence for Creation or God's existence and dismisses the testimony of Scripture is that he is forcing us to accept his epistemology, his worldview. And when the Christian acquiesces to the skeptic's demands and seeks to prove the genuineness or veracity of any doctrine of the Bible by going outside of the Bible, he fails to realize that in that very act he is forfeiting his Christian worldview and accepting that of the skeptic. It's a tacit acceptance that Scripture itself is not valid evidence -- that the only valid theory of knowledge is rationalism, or naturalism, or some other non-Christian epistemology.

But, as Edwards goes on to say, specifically, "The mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory. ... Unless men may come to a reasonably solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the a sight of its glory, it is impossible that those who are illiterate and unacquainted with history, should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all."

That is precisely what 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 teaches: "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Paul tells us that unbelievers are blind to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. The definition of unbelief is a blindness to glory that is really there, whether it's seen or not. And before anyone will believe any other physical evidence, God must first shine in their hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

And that is precisely why we must consistently present the Gospel to our inquiring friends: because the evidence they're looking for is only authenticated by the unveiled sight of the glory of God in the face of Christ. If they offer arguments appealing to science that are factually incorrect, we may certainly give an answer (1Pet 3:15) by presenting scientifically verifiable evidence. But we must never imagine that such a presentation will quicken the dead heart and open blind eyes. As 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, it is God who shines that Light to open their eyes. Behind every academic debate or scientific rebuttal, the skeptic is a sinner who needs forgiveness. Only a fresh sight of the glory of God will convince him of that, and only a fresh sight of the glory of God will remedy his unbelief.

Elsewhere Edwards says, "This evidence that [the] spiritually enlightened have of the truth of the things of religion, is a kind of intuitive and immediate evidence. They believe the doctrines of God's word to be divine because they see divinity in them, i.e. they see a divine, and transcendent, and most evidently distinguishing glory in them; such glory as, if clearly seen, doesn't leave room to doubt of their being of God and not of men."

God Himself, and the beauty of His glory, is our evidence. As you give a reason for the hope that is within you, don't send any other message.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Repentance versus Penance

In our discussion of Biblical repentance, we most recently narrowed our scope to apply specifically to Christians all the Scriptures have said about repentance. We mentioned that the intellectual, emotional and volitional components apply both to the sinner in justification and the believer's continual repentance in sanctification.

Today, I want to narrow the scope even further, and contrast the doctrine of Biblical repentance to the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance, and suggest that
many Evangelical Protestants who would vehemently denounce penance unwittingly practice penance while thinking they are practicing Biblical repentance. This goes to the heart of the Gospel, because it calls into question the sufficiency of Christ's atonement.

The Doctrine of Penance

Though all Christians must heed the command of John the Baptist to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Lk 3:8), there exists a tendency in every fallen human heart to conceive of such acts of obedience as currency by which we pay God back for his gift of the forgiveness of our sins. “The exhortations of the ancient prophets, of Jesus, and of the apostles show that the change of mind is the dominant idea of [repentance, and] the accompanying grief and reform of life are necessary consequences.” However, the Latin translation of metanoéō into the Vulgate emphasized the “grief over sin rather than the abandonment of sin as the primary idea of NT repentance” by translating it do penance (ISBE, 4:136). Penance, then, and not Biblical repentance, became the focus of the Roman Catholic Church through the middle ages.

The Roman Catholic sacrament of penance is the process by which the Church absolves a penitent sinner of his sin by requiring him to (1) confess that sin to a priest, (2) demonstrate adequate sorrow over that sin (usually by a prayer) and (3) endure any temporal punishments (such as repeating prayers or performing works of service) levied by the priest in order to make satisfaction for that sin before God. In a non-technical sense, penance is often spoken of as synonymous with satisfaction, which is “the voluntary enduring of the penalty imposed by the confessor in order to [a] compensate for the injury done to God and to [b] redeem or atone for the temporal punishment which is ordinarily due even after sin as been forgiven” [Adolphe Tanquerey, Manual of Dogmatic Theology. Trans. John J. Byrnes (Desclee: NY, 1959), 2:330]. Put simply, the sinner must atone for their sin by enduring the punishments assigned to them by themselves or by a priest (see the Canons of the Council of Trent, Session XIV, Chapter IX).

The Danger of Penance

The danger of this doctrine is damning. First, it makes provision for the act of repentance to quickly become mechanical. It removes the focus of the change of heart, will, and mind that is so central to Biblical repentance, and replaces it with an external, potentially mindless ritual. Confession of sin becomes a sort of quid pro quo transaction between the sinner and God in such a way that no real change of heart and abandonment of sin is required. The sinner may dispassionately recount his sins to a priest who assures him that he may have forgiveness if he recites a particular pre-written prayer a certain number of times. Such a practice, in effect, reverses the call of Yahweh in Joel 2:12-13 and instead commands, “Rend your garments, and not necessarily your hearts.”

Secondly, and perhaps much more severely, penance undermines the sufficient atonement for sin that Christ achieved by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross. This is subtle, yet extremely important. When we are convicted of sin, desire to repent, and seek God to receive the gift of forgiveness of sin (cf. 1Jn 1:9), impulses of initial sorrow followed by joy and gratitude are natural expressions of our repentance. However, requiring one to work up such sorrow or to demonstrate joy and gratitude in order to make satisfaction for his sins nullifies grace. “You would be treating [forgiveness] no longer as a gift, but a purchase. God would no longer be the free benefactor. And you would be enslaved to a new set of demands that he never dreamed of putting on you” (John Piper, Future Grace, 45). And if the believer tries to purchase his forgiveness with his deeds of repentance, he necessarily dishonors the sufficient, once-for-all purchase that Christ Himself made for sin by giving His life on the cross. Consider the following passages about the absolute sufficiency of Christ's work, with no need for supplementation:
  • Hebrews 7:26-27 - For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
  • Hebrews 9:11-14 - But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
  • Hebrews 9:25 - ...nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.
  • Hebrews 10:11-14 - Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
That is all simply to say: If Christ’s sacrifice truly provided forgiveness – if it truly atoned for anything – “there is no longer any offering of sin” that can be added (Heb 10:18).

'Evangelical Penance'

Now, though penance is a Roman Catholic doctrine, the inclination to do penance – to attempt to make some satisfaction for our sins – is present even with many conservative evangelicals. In fact, there is a natural desire in all human beings to offer some payment for our sins. Frankly, we all seek to earn our way to God. Grace is insulting to us, because it highlights our inability and our need for an alien righteousness, since we don't have our own. And so because it's our nature to be legalists, we often slip back into that mindset. Rather than receiving the gift of forgiveness with a spontaneous response of heartfelt joy, we treat our Christian walk as “an effort to pay back the debt we owe to God. … Good deeds and religious acts are the installment payments we make on the unending debt we owe God” (Piper, Future Grace, 33).

When we sin and come to God in confession, after feeling badly about what we have done we resolve to read our Bibles more, pray more, go to church more, or even do acts of service to ‘make up for’ our sin. We often wonder if we have felt badly enough for our sin and we heap scorn upon ourselves to make sure that we are sorry enough. We recognize that we do not deserve forgiveness, and so we learn from Scripture and from others what the appropriate responses of genuine, heartfelt repentance ought to be, and we seek to manufacture those responses and offer them to God in order to earn our forgiveness. Yet the grace of God was never designed to indebt us to Him. No, grace does not create debts, but pays debts. Grace does not enslave believers, it makes us free. The Lord Jesus Christ, by His perfect obedience, has earned our forgiveness and bestows it upon us freely by faith.

Such ‘functional penance’ is a common practice among those in counseling and other kinds of accountability groups. Paul Tripp tells a story about Celia who, “like many counselees, thought that being in counseling was an act of repentance” (Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 286). She conceived of her talking as confession and her remaining in counseling as her ‘fruits in keeping with repentance.’ However, Tripp says that Celia was treating the counseling process as penance:

She was blind to the fact that she was really participating in an act of self-atonement. I call this “Protestant absolution.” The counselee confesses, examines issues, participates in an ongoing discussion of self and the situation and, week by week, leaves the counseling time feeling atoned, cleansed, and right. Yet all of this is happening without any substantive heart or behavioral change (Tripp, Instruments, 286).
Such insights shed light on the wicked tendency of our hearts to seek our own self-righteousness through penance, even as conservative, orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals. With our feeble efforts at ‘Protestant absolution,’ we try to do enough or say enough or feel enough. But the reality is, we could never be enough. That is precisely why we needed a Savior to die on our behalf: because even our best would never have been enough. When we adopt such a mindset, we are just like Adam and Eve in the garden, who, knowing the shame of our nakedness, sew mere fig leaves together to cover the sin in our lives (Gen 3:7). Yet we refuse the better covering that God Himself provides (Gen 3:21) -- the perfect garment of Christ’s atonement (Gal 3:27; Rom 13:14).

The Antidote to Penance: Repentance Motivated by Delight in Superior Pleasures

Biblical repentance comes not as a result of our works; rather our works are the fruit that come from repentance. But if our performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Ac 26:20) does not come from a desire to earn favor or forgiveness with God, from where does it come? As Piper puts it, the fruits in keeping with our repentance come from the delightful root of faith in future grace.

With true gratitude [in repentance] there is such a delight in the worth of God’s past grace [e.g., forgiveness of a particular sin], that we are driven on to experience more and more of it in the future. But this is not done by ‘payments’ of debt in any ordinary sense. Rather, it is done by transforming gratitude into faith as it turns from contemplating the pleasures of past grace and starts contemplating the promises of the future. … True gratitude exults in the riches of God’s grace as it looks back on the benefits it has received. By cherishing past grace in this way, it inclines the heart to trust in future grace (Piper, Future Grace, 38-39).

The joyful gratitude for the forgiveness of sin that we experience in repentance drives us to forsake our sin and obey freely, because that gratitude is produced by the promise of future experiences of the sweet pleasures of God’s grace. Our repentant obedience, then, is driven by our faith in the promises of God. It is not the price we pay or the punishment we endure to gain acceptance, but the natural overflow of hearts that yearn to be satisfied with more of Christ.
Both the alternative and antidote to penance -- even "Evangelical penance" -- is the delight and satisfaction we have in Christ.

So fight your sin that way. Battle against the faux-pleasures promised by your sin by preferring the superior pleasures of all God is for you in Christ. You are not under law, Christian, but under grace. So on the basis of Christ's death and resurrection -- the basis upon which grace was purchased for you -- consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, and thus present your members as weapons of righteousness, not unrighteousness.

For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all;
but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin,
but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,
and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin
as instruments of unrighteousness;
but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead,
and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

For sin shall not be master over you,
for you are not under law but under grace.

- Romans 6:10-14 -

Friday, July 9, 2010

Defining and Defending Biblical Apologetics

There's so much that I want to say about this video from James White. But every time I set my hand to write, I recognize that what I want to say is exactly what he's said in the video. (You might also check out this post, which is best read in the context of this entire series.)

But just for some context, James White is president of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics ministry based in Phoenix, Arizona, and is an elder at Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church. He hosts a weekly radio program called The Dividing Line, and this segment is taken from the show on June 24th, 2010. White is entirely devoted to a presuppositional approach to defending the Christian faith, and in the below video he explains how the theology of the Bible itself requires that one be a presuppositional apologist if one is to be consistently Biblical.

I know 42 minutes is a long time, but I promise you it is well worth your time.

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. … For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, so that they would not see him with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them."
- John 12:37, 39-40 -

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Repentance for the Christian

As we've discussed what the Bible has to say about the concept of repentance, we have observed that the Scriptures speak about repentance in two different contexts. There is a repentance associated with conversion that leads to eternal life (Ac 11:18), as well as a repentance associated with the Christian life that is a part of daily sanctification. Thus, many of the same principles of repentance in the event of justification also hold true for repentance in the process of the believer’s sanctification. The intellectual, emotional, and volitional components apply to the Christian life as well as conversion, for the Scriptures demonstrate that a believer’s repentance should (1) be continual and ongoing, and (2) include a sorrow over sin which brings about (a) confession and turning from that sin, (b) a corresponding turn to God, and finally (c) the bearing of fruit in keeping with that professed repentance.

While many of the passages we've discussed in previous posts describe the nature of repentance at the moment of conversion from spiritual death to spiritual life, Scripture is clear that even God’s people are called to ongoing repentance as a result of their sin. Repentance is not to be considered a one-time act for Christians. Indeed, Christ intends that repentance be a staple of the Christian lifestyle. As He is discussing principles for ongoing life as a part of His church, specifically in the areas of sin, confrontation, forgiveness, and restoration (cf. Mt 18:15-20)
, Peter interjects and asks how often he should forgive a brother who sins against him. In the parallel account in Luke 17, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Lk 17:3-4). Here, Jesus teaches that ongoing repentance is the basis for Christians’ forgiveness of and restoration to fellowship with each other. Though our justification frees us from the penalty of sin, our remaining flesh causes the presence of sin to remain as well. Therefore, as we continually sin against God and others, we must continually repent. In a believer’s life, a spirit of repentance must be as “indwelling” as is his remaining sin. Chris Jenkins, in his 2008 article, What is Repentance? Settling the Debate, in the Journal of Modern Ministry, helpfully summarizes: “At conversion, a sinner purposes to turn from sin generally conceived (i.e., as the dominant principle of life), and yet throughout the sanctified life, he also turns from specific sins as they occur.”

While there is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1), it is plain that godly sorrow and mourning over one’s sin is a part of a believer’s repentant lifestyle. Paul rejoices that his severe letter made the Corinthian believers sorrowful for a time, because their sorrow produced in them a repentance without regret (2Cor 7:9-10). Paul himself, the very one to proclaim that great promise of Romans 8:1, only a few verses earlier lamented greatly over the wretchedness of his own continual battle with sin:
I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom 7:22-24; cf. 7:14-25).

After his threefold denial of the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Peter was said to have "wept bitterly" (Mt 26:75), no doubt experiencing the emotional component of repentance signified by nacham. King David, the man after God’s own heart (1Sam 13:14), frequently expressed his repentant grief over his sin (Ps 40:12), and in some cases even experienced physical effects of “the agitation of his heart” (Ps 38:8), such as being “bent over and greatly bowed down” (Ps 38:6) experiencing the burning of his loins (Ps 38:7), and groaning over the wasting away of his body and the loss of his vitality (Ps 32:3-4). Even the writer of that queen of psalms in which he celebrates his delight in the Law of God nevertheless closes with the lamentation, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (Ps 119:176). Thus, the repentant believer should be being led to repentance by the grief he experiences over his sin.

Such godly sorrow will lead to the open acknowledgment, confession, and repudiation of sin. King David explicitly affirms this in two of his most classic penitential psalms. In Psalm 32:5, he said, "
I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh'; and You forgave the guilt of my sin." In Psalm 51, he cried out, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge" (Ps 51:3-4). David is clear about acknowledging and confessing his sin, as well as purposing to continue his life before Yahweh without persisting in such sin.

These things are not limited to David. Job, unquestionably a believer in Yahweh (Job 1:1, 8), acknowledges his sinful attitude and speech by confessing, “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). That repentance also involves his repudiating, or turning from, his specific sin is plain by his simple declaration: “Therefore I retract” (Job 42:6). Jesus confirms this need for believers' open acknowledgment, confession, and repudiation of sin in His stern warnings to the seven churches in Revelation, calling them to turn from their sins of weakening love (Rev 2:4-5), of tolerating false teaching (
Rev 2:15-16), of deeds of immorality (Rev 2:21-22), and of indifference towards Christ (Rev 3:15-19). A repentant believer, therefore, should name and confess his specific sins before God and, based on the promises of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, purpose to forsake such sins.

Almost indistinguishable from the believer’s turn from specific sin is his turn to God. Confession itself is an act of returning to God (or another offended party) and a looking to Him for forgiveness. The example of the sinning brother in Luke 17 is said to return to his brother seven times (Lk 17:4); his turning from sin is expressed in his turn to the one whom he sinned against. Also, David declares, “I acknowledged my sin to You,” and “I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh” (Ps 32:5). His plea for forgiveness is said to be “according to [God’s] lovingkindness” and “the greatness of [His] compassion” (Ps 51:1). In turning from his sin, then, the believer is to turn to the Lord God and wholly hope in His character for forgiveness.

Finally, the believer’s turning to God in repentance will always result in corresponding obedience. The Corinthians’ repentance led them to specific action that matched their profession, for which Paul rejoices (2Cor 7:11)
. David prays for forgiveness, and subsequently declares that he will teach sinners the ways of Yahweh (Ps 51:13), joyfully sing of His righteousness (Ps 51:14), and declare His praise (Ps 51:15). Even Peter’s turn from his sin of denial and his return to the Lord Jesus is evident in his fearless testimony of Christ before the rulers and elders of Israel on multiple occasions (Ac 4:8-11, 18-20; 5:27-32, 41-42). And indeed, Jesus Himself declares to the churches that amending their ways and performing righteous deeds is a necessary fruit of their repentance (Rev 2:5). While Christians are not forgiven or received by God because of these fruits of obedience, such obedience is the necessary evidence of true repentance.

In conclusion, then, whether speaking of the sinner’s conversion or the believer’s Christian life, Biblical repentance involves (1) the penitent’s intellectual recognition of his culpability because the offensiveness of his sin, along with (2) an emotional remorse and godly sorrow that he has offended God and has, for a time, forfeited the joy of fellowship with Him. These finally lead to (3) a conscious exercise of his volition as he freely and turns from his sin and delightfully turns to God in Christ. And as that turn of his will must be because he finds the glory of Christ more satisfying than the faux-pleasures of sin, it will
therefore result in the believer’s joyful obedience to the Word of God.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Where the Contemplation of Our Freedom Should Point Us

I referred to the following post in last year's Independence Day post at For Our Benefit. It's entitled, "What Price Freedom?" and was written by PyroManiac Dan Phillips. Last year, I noted that I copied his post because everyone had written something with a 4th of July theme, and I, being a rookie blogger, didn't have anything prepared. I copy Dan's post this year, though, not (merely) because I wasn't ready for an Independence Day theme, but because I honestly don't think I could write -- or find elsewhere -- something better.

Enjoy. And Praise God for His gift of freedom. Political freedom, absolutely. But infinitely more important, praise God for freedom from sin.

“…and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn over the dead, and the Ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood; and He made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father — to him be the glory and the might unto the ages of the ages! Amen!” (Revelation 1:5-6, my rendering)
In America, we enjoy a degree of freedom unknown throughout most of the history of the world. This freedom had its formal birth with the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, in which the 13 colonies declared themselves independent of Great Britain, and which ended with the words “for the support of this declaration…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Was that just big talk, or flowery rhetoric? Well, the 56 signers were marking themselves as traitors to the Crown. “By the end of the war, almost every one had lost his property; many had lost wives and families to British guns or prisons; and several died penniless, having given all to the Revolution” (Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States [Sentinel: 2004], 81).

Americans enjoy freedom today because of the blood spilt by thousands of men and women from before 1776 until this very day. Our freedom, as Americans, is not free. If it hasn’t cost us personally, it surely has cost someone else!

But my mind turns today to a far deeper bondage, however, and an infinitely greater freedom — and to the far more dreadful price that was paid for that freedom.

It is found in Revelation 1:5b: “To Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood.”

I'd like to focus on two aspects only of that text: the love of Jesus, and the cost of that love.

As to the love of Jesus, we can discern four aspects here:

First, Christ's love is FREE. God is, by definition, the one and only truly free Being. He is under no external controls, subject to no overrides nor limitations. He can will and do anything in accord with His nature. Therefore, He was under no external nor moral compulsion to love guilty rebels. No committee or authority had petitioned nor ordered Him. Certainly His love was provoked by nothing in us — no foreseen faith, no anticipated holiness, as if the ultimate cause lay in us.

More accurately, He loves in spite of the continued rebellions, treacheries, and unbelief of the objects of His love. When He loves, He loves because He loves. It is the only satisfactory and Biblical answer.

Second, Christ's love is DISTINGUISHING. The text says that He loves "us." The context defines "us" as “His servants" and "his servant John" (1:1; cf. v. 4), as “the seven churches” (1:4), and as people who were “loosed …from sins… made… a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). They are contrasted with false, pretend-Christians (chapters 2—3).

They stand apart from those who try to hide “themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17).

It was a targeted love, a definite love, a particular love. There were people — "us" — whom Christ meant to free. Not "offer freedom to," but free, "loose."

Would anyone dare say He failed to free even one soul whom He determined to deliver?

Third, Christ's love is ETERNAL. John calls Jesus “Him who loves us.” The verb is present in tense, but it is a participle, not a finite verb. It marks no starting point, it erects no terminus. It isn't “Jesus loved us," nor "Jesus will love us.”

Being a verbal noun, it is a characteristic of Jesus'. It was true when John wrote it, it is true as we read it, it will be true through all the centuries and millennia and ages of eternity. Before the world began, He set His love on His own. When the last rebel fist has been shaken, and judged, still He will love His own.

This characteristic trumps all of the fears of God’s people. “But I am unworthy!” So are we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.” “But I sin!” So do we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.” “But I am going through a dark, awful time!” So have we all; yet Christ is He “who loves us.”

There is no “use by” date, no expiration, no sunset provision. Because it is eternal, it is invincible; nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Fourth, Christ's love is revelatory of HIM, not of US. If ever you find yourself starting a sentence, “Well, I think God loved me because I…” — bail out! Quick! Step away from the stupid statement! The only true and Biblical way to finish that is, “God loved because God loved." And the fact that God loved, and the wretches whom God loved, and the invincible fierceness with which God loved all say a great deal about God — and nothing about me.

Away with all self-help pop-psychologizing, that tries to find self-esteem in the Cross. Many say, “God loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me — so I must be worth a lot! I must be worthy! I must be special!” I can’t easily imagine a more perverse line of reasoning. What the Cross says about us is that we’re helpless, we’re hopeless, we’re lost and doomed, and only the most extreme, radical, scandalous act on the part of God could redeem us from the wreck and ruin in which we’d buried ourselves!

The Cross says horrible things about us, as we are in ourselves, as Christ finds us! But it says wonderful things about God!

In fact, as a brief aside, to speak of loosing is to assume binding. That is, only those who are bound are interested in deliverance from their bonds. So what is it that binds us? The world, the flesh, and the Devil -- mighty, ubiquitous, tireless forces. [Sheerly because of the length of this post, I expand on this point elsewhere.]

Now let's turn to the COST undertaken by Jesus, because of His love: He freed us from our sins “by His blood.” We'll focus on three aspects.

First, Christ's blood is PRECIOUS blood. It is precious because of whose blood it is. It belongs to God’s Messiah, the Anointed One, the Faithful Witness, the ruler of the kings of the earth. It belongs to the blood of God incarnate; the Bible calls it the blood of God (Acts 20:28). This blood is of infinite worth. Dare anyone set a limit on the value of this blood? I would not! (It is a great misrepresentation of the Calvinist position to think that we do. We see its value as limitless, and its aim as specific.) Thus could Christ shed it on behalf of, and actually accomplish the redemption of, countless scores of multitudes of sinners from every nation, tribe and language.

Second, Christ's blood is PURE blood. The blood that looses us from our sins is itself that of a sinless Man. This is the blood of the one Man who did not share Adam’s guilt, and did not replicate Adam’s sin. It is the blood of one who never violated God’s law in thought, word or deed, who kept every bit of God’s law in thought, word and deed. Can the contrast between the Lord Jesus and those for whom He died be any starker and more immense?

Third, Christ's blood is POWERFUL blood. The apostle John does not say that Jesus made it possible for us to loose ourselves from our sins by His blood. Nor does He say that Christ made loosing from our sins available by his blood. Rather, Jesus Christ actually loosed us from our sins by His blood!

Christ's blood is powerful, and it is effectual. Can any imagine that a drop of that blood would be wasted, would fall to the ground defeated and impotent? I cannot.

Notice the wonders He accomplishes by His blood (vv. 5b-6). Before, we were lost, rebellious, hopeless, impure slaves. After, we are a kingdom, and we are priests. We need no mere man to rule us. We need no man to stand for us before God. We are members of Christ’s kingdom, and priests to God through Him.

This, my brothers and sisters, is freedom!

But at what a cost!

Now, it's beyond us to know who reads our posts. So let me just say, Dear Reader, if your thinking is, “Oh, I don’t need such a drastic conversion; religion is all very well for weak men and old ladies, but I have a fulfilled and meaningful life. I must follow my heart. I don’t need fairy tales to brighten up my life,” then you are still a slave to the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The worst slave is the one who has grown accustomed to his chains.

What power on earth can save us from these things? No power on earth! Only Christ can — but at what a dreadful price! No mere example, or teaching, or method can save. Only the blood of God incarnate can loose us from our sins! Do you know that freedom?

If you do, praise and honor Him alone who loves you, and loosed you from your sins at such a staggering price!

If you do not, throw yourself on the mercy of God, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, look to Him this day!