Spiritual Blindness

A Time of Confession

Occasionally, HisWay Community prays a corporate prayer of confession together. In this time, we acknowledge God’s holiness and our falling short of His glory. Most recently, the following prayer is being learned and prayed together as one:

Blessed Jesus, you offered us 
all your blessings when you announced
:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”, 
but we have been rich in pride.
“Blessed are those who mourn”
, but we have not known 
much sorrow for our sin.
“Blessed are the meek
”, but we are a stiff-necked people.
“Blessed are those who hunger 
and thirst for righteousness
”, but we are filled to the full 
with other things.
“Blessed are the merciful”, but we are harsh and impatient.
“Blessed are the pure in heart
”, but we have impure hearts.
“Blessed are the peacemakers
”, but we have not sought reconciliation.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted 
because of righteousness
”, but our lives do not challenge the world.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, 
persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil 
against you because of me
”, but we have hardly made it known 
that we are yours.
Your Law is holy 
and your benedictions are perfect,
 but they are both too great for us. 
You alone are blessed.
We plead with you to forgive our sins
and give us the blessing of your righteousness.

Originally found on Monergism.com’s helpful website.

Family Worship – What and How?

Family Worship

I was asked about family worship and felt like the answer(s) would be beneficial for others as well. The general lack of understanding about family worship is connected with the church not teaching and encouraging families and fathers to make it a priority in family life. And the busyness of life makes it incredibly hard. I don’t want anyone to feel guilted into family worship. But I do want you to feel a push of encouragement to do so.

Where do we reclaim churches from the grasp of sin? How do we best prepare our children and young adults to fight the wiles of the devil and keep their sinful, fleshly desires at bay? What is the best way to bring “children up ‘in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph 6:4), ‘so that they should set their hope in God’ (Psalm 78:7)”[9marks]? The answer is the same to all of these: the primacy of God’s Word in the family on a daily basis. Families, fathers, and mothers have such important and God-given roles in life. How spectacular is it that a Biblically faithful family can be the tool of God to initiate change in many surrounding families! Be encouraged to know that what you do as a family to make the Word of God the main focus creates waves of influence. First, it influences your children, and that is reason enough. Second, it is rather contagious, affecting well beyond your own family. Lastly and most importantly, God is glorified. Here are a couple things to think through and some resources for you all.

Family Worship is about God

Sounds easy enough, but it can be tough in today’s culture. On the hard days when mom and dad are really wanting the kids in bed and chill time afterwards, family worship seems like a chore. And we are constantly taught that “forcing it” makes that worship less than. In truth, worship is a discipline. We must will it to happen during the desert times. A mind that is focused on the things above ( https://www.cogwheel.org.uk/?c=buy-antidepressant-wellbutrin-online-no-script Col. 3:2) pushes through the deceitfulness of the heart ( watch Jer. 17:9) to will worship to happen even when we don’t want to worship. You won’t even begin to understand the impact of your perseverance on your children. Family worship is about God not the family, though it certainly benefits the family in many ways.

Family Worship doesn’t have to be complicated

If you are like me (and that’s my general assumption), then the concept of family worship seems daunting. “How do we do this? What should we do or not do? Where do we start? I have no idea…I just need help.” To put your mind at ease, let’s talk about congregational worship. There are only seven things that God has prescribed to be a part of congregational worship: Preaching (from the Bible), Reading (from the Bible), Lord’s Day meeting, administration of the sacraments, hearing the Word of God, Prayer to God, Singing (Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs) [Regulative Principle of Worship]. That’s all fairly straightforward. But it doesn’t all apply to family worship. The main elements of worship for family worship are preaching, reading, hearing, praying, and singing the Bible. Or simply to read, pray, and sing. Don’t draw it out. Just make it sincere. Fathers, explain the passage read and apply it to the lives within you family. Memorize Scripture with the family. Lead and teach the family to pray. Sing praises that are God-centered and Biblically strong.

Family Worship obeys God’s explicit instruction

http://www.olvarwood.com.au/?o=purchase-antibiotics-Canada Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but http://premiumflooringsolutions.co.uk/?p=price-of-wellbutrin-without-insurance bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4

I don’t really have to say much here. God is serious about it, enables us to do it in Christ, forgives us for our failures to do it, and expects us to be serious about it. I’m very thankful that God has forgiven my failures in this area. I have always led the kids to memorize, but family worship was lacking. God convicted, and it has been a wonderful transition for our family. I can’t encourage you enough in this area.

What does Family Worship look like exactly? I need help!

Resources:

Our (Current) Plan of Attack:
  • Pray over the family, specific needs, sleep of children, lessons learned throughout the day, and the like (we also verbalize prayer for the salvation of our children)
  • Scripture memory (currently 1 Corinthians 13), reading the whole passage while the children repeat the verses they currently know
  • Scripture reading and explanation (currently John), this takes prep by the fathers
  • Scripture recitation (John 3:16), we started this verse with them from a very young age quoting it to them before bed nightly
  • Singing (current favorites are Amazing Grace, All to Us, 10,000 Reasons), remember that this is specifically God-centered, Biblically accurate songs
  • Hugs and kisses goodnight (we do this before bed because that’s best for us, just make it regular and dedicated)

 

We sometimes have a more abbreviated time that includes prayer, Scripture memorization, and singing. I hope this is helpful and encouraging. Don’t sweat it if you miss a night or fumble over your words. Dedicate to bring Jesus to your family in family worship. Give them Jesus.

Confession of sin in the presence of others is applying and celebrating the gospel, together.

-Ryan Griffith

“Jesus has freed us from our sins by his blood”

Recently, I listened to a sermon given by Kempton Turner called “The Pastor’s Purity and Pleasure” at the 2014 Desiring God Pastor’s Conference. The main focus of the message is Turner preaching on the importance of pastors overcoming sexual temptation, but the gospel truths that he presents are applicable to combating all types of temptation, and he delivers those truths in beautifully, soul-enriching way. The sermon can be listened to here, and I would strongly recommend it to everyone, not just pastors as the way we preaches the gospel gives all believers powerful weapons to wage war against sin.

The main focus of his message is discussing how Jesus frees us from our sin and what exactly that means as well as how those truths enable us to combat sin. That Jesus frees us from our sins, Turner says, means at least 4 things: that we are 1) freed from the follow url penalty of our sins. 2) that Jesus is progressively freeing us from the http://adultztoyworld.com.au/?a=cymbalta-40-mg-buy-online-Japan power of our sins as well as 3) the follow url pleasure of our sins, and 4) that he will free us from the antibiotics for a bacterial infection presence of our sin.

This main part has really blessed me, and I have been thinking a lot about the truths he discusses, and has been helpful in my own spiritual warfare. I wrote this based on these 4 truths, Turner presents.

Jesus you’ve freed us from our sin
by the pow’r of your blood.
By you’re wounds we have been healed,
caught up in mercy’s flood.
Jesus you suffered on the cross
to bring us near to God,
And now you’ve risen to your throne.
To you we give all laud.
Jesus you’ve paid the penalty
for our inequities
and given us your righteousness,
so God us blameless sees.
When sin stirs guilt and shame in us,
we have no cause to fear.
Our righteousness remains the same;
you still invite us near.
Jesus you’re breaking all our bonds
of sin and pride and self.
We were buried with you in death
that we may live in health.
So when sin o’er us seems to reign
with this truth, we wage war:
we have life in you and are free
you only to adore.
Jesus you’re killing sin’s pleasure
by the pow’r of the cross.
The things which we once held so dear,
now seem to us as dross.
When old desires of sin beckon,
no heed to them we’ll pay
for a higher joy we have found,
from it we cannot stray.
Jesus, sin’s presence you’ll remove
on that joyful, last day,
that we may without blemish stand,
with no more sin to slay.
Our sin’s death and your full glory
are our hope in this race.
So keep us to the very end
to the praise of your grace.

Bearing the Image of God

Historically, what it means for man (“man” is used to denote all of mankind in this paper not just males) to be created in the image and likeness of God has been interpreted in a number of different ways. Irenaeus, distinguishing between image and likeness, held that man as the image of God is found in his reason and free will[1], and likeness of God in man is found in the “robe of sanctity” which was given to man when he was created and then lost during the Fall[2]. Later theologians would come to understand image and likeness to be the synonyms and not referring to two different things, but they would maintain with Irenaeus that part of the image of God in man was lost in during the Fall. For Thomas Aquinas, being created in the image of God, meant that man was created intelligent and that the mind houses the image of God[3]. For Calvin, the image of God is found in, “the light of the mind, in the uprightness of the heart, and in the soundness of all the parts.[4]” Calvin holds that the image of God is not found in some quality man holds such as intellect or free will, but in the righteousness he held before the Fall, and that is restored by the regeneration of the Spirit. More recently, Karl Barth has put forward the idea that the image of God is found in his relationships. Because God created man male and female, Barth says, He enables man to live in community and in relationships[5].

Now, this question of what exactly it means to be created in the image of God is important because it sets man apart from the rest of creation. Identifying what it means for man to be created in God’s image, therefore tells man what he is set apart to. It tells man why he is set apart. In the answer to this question of the meaning of man being created in God’s image is found man’s purpose and meaning in life. I would like to explore what it means for man to be created in God’s image. In doing so, I will be forced to neglect discussing the extent to which the image of God is lost in the Fall, as well how it is restored in Christ. I will limit my discussion of the topic to what it looks like for man to live as the image of God and how the law God gives points to what it means for man to be an image-bearer of God.

First I will say that man’s intellect, reason, free will, or relationships cannot in and of themselves constitute what it means to be the image of God because they can all be used sinfully. During the Enlightenment man’s reason and intellect were used to reason away the existence of God. Man freely chooses to sin and disobey God, and he constantly puts his other relationships above his relationship with God. These qualities man possesses do not in and of themselves make man the image-bearer of God but they do enable man to bear God’s image. In the words of Douma, “God has equipped man with various capacities (understanding, will, a unique body) needed to function as God’s image” but these “conditions for being the image of God are not the image of God itself[6]”. Without intellect and free will man cannot truly worship God. By himself, absent from community, man has no one to bear forth God’s image to. If these things enable man to bear God’s image but are not the image itself, then what does it mean to be created in God’s image? I believe that what it means for man to be created in the image of God, first mentioned in Genesis 1:26-27, is further expounded upon in the rest of the Bible.

First, according to Deuteronomy 6:4, “The LORD our God,  the LORD is one[7]” and in God, “there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17). This means that God’s will for man as expressed in Genesis 1:26 to “make man in our image, after our likeness” is in perfect harmony with the rest of Scripture and that God’s will for man as expressed in the rest of Scripture is in unity with this his creation of man in his own image. When God says, “you shall be holy for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16), his intentions stated here are the same as his intentions for creating man in His own image because in Him there is no change, and He is one. What does it mean for man to be created in the image of God? It mean he is holy as God is holy. It means he has, “no other gods before [the LORD]” (Ex 20:3); it means he “honor[s] [his] father and mother” (Ex 20:12);it means man follows every other command God gives because every command God gives is in harmony with his original intention to create man in his own image, and every command He gives further clarifies what it looks like for man to live in harmony with God’s original purpose. This means that the image of God is primarily not in a quality or characteristic that man possesses but in his action, motive, and heart.

Now, man is in some sense still the image of God after the Fall in his unrighteousness (see Gen 9:6 and Jas 3:9), but this image is surely distorted and perverted and is, as Calvin said, “so corrupted that whatever remains is frightful deformity.[8]” So while all men are still created in the image of God and therefore have intrinsic value and worth that comes from that reality, the image they bear is a gross misrepresentation of the character of God. The fullness for what God intended in creating man as his image, is for man to represent God on earth[9] This fullness is lost in the fall and restored in Christ, and thus man is only able to live out the fullness for what God created when he is in relationship with Christ. The true picture of what it means to be created in God’s image is found only in the one who has faith in Christ who,  “beholding the glory of the Lord, [is] being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” {2 Cor 3:18). In the believer, God restores the fullness of his image that was lost during the Fall through the life-long process of sanctification. As the believer becomes more sanctified, his inclination obey God grows as does the degree to which he bears forth the image of God.  It is in the commands God gives to his followers that he reveals what the believer living in his image will look like. It is in this sense that this paper is focused. It is concerned with human purpose, not human worth.

As stated before, the commands God gives that man may live a righteous life in Christ all point back to the reality that man is God’s image-bearer. When God says, “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek 37:27), he is restoring man’s ability to live as his image-bearer that he lost in the Fall. By living in obedience to God, man points to the nature and character of God. Man’s holy living reveals the holiness and goodness of the God who’s image he bears. So the law God gives serves not only to guide man in living as His image-bearer but also as a revelation of the very God man is to image.

Because of the Fall, no man can live up the fullness of what it means to be created in the image of God. For the fallen man, who live apart from faith in God and the regenerating work God gives to those who have faith, lives suppressing the truth, exchanging the truth about God for a lie, worshiping and serving creation rather than the Creator. The image of God can not be seen in its fullness in them, for they live opposed to their Creator (see Rom 1:18ff). Yet, even in the case of the believer, the image of God is not seen in its fullness for every believer deals with the remnants of their sinful nature which is opposed to God. It is only when the process of sanctification is complete that the believer will bear God’s image fully.

There is one, however, that can be looked to now in order to see how a life lived in the obedience to God’s commands clearly and perfectly displays the image of God. The God-man Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15, compare II Cor 4:4), “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). Peter tells us that Christ, “committed no sin” and “neither was deceit found in his mouth” (I Pet 3:22). In Christ’s own words, he came not to “abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:18). In other words Christ perfectly obeyed every aspect of the Law and he is the perfect image-bearer. Christ is man as he is intended to be, and man as he will one day be in Christ when the work of sanctification is complete.

In the life of Christ, God and his character on display. Because he is the perfect image of God, Christ’s every action, every word, and every emotion he displays is in perfect harmony with God’s. Christ’s love and grace he displays to the sick, the demon possessed, and the leper conveys the reality of God’s love for the poor and broken. The mercy Christ shows to the Samaritan woman points to the enormity of God’s love that transcends all racial and social boundaries. His outrage he displayed toward those who would make a profit from the worship of God reveals the frightening reality of God’s wrath directed toward the hypocrites and the unrepentant.

Because Christ’s life was the perfect representation of God, “whoever has seen [Christ] has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). And because Christ perfectly bore  the image of God, a perfect example is given to he who has been redeemed by Christ to follow. To bear the image of God is to live as Jesus did, saying, “not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). It is to live a life in obedience to what God has commanded.  Yet, Christ life and words also reveal that being an image-bearer of God is not a mindless obedience to a set of rules that God has laid out. Being an image-bearer of God is not just about outward actions and appearances but the heart. A man who whose actions reflect God’s actions, but who’s motives, and emotions, and heart do not reflect God’s heart misunderstands what it means to bear His image. The commands God gives are not to be just mindlessly done but they are to proceed from heart in union with God’s heart. Jesus states that all the Law and the Prophets depend on two commandments, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandments. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-38). In other words at the heart of the law, at the heart of every command God gives is love. God has already performed the most loving act conceivable; he has given the Son as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of his people. The only response his people can make to such a sacrifice is to, “present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice…which is [their] spiritual act of worship” (Rom 12:1). The life of the image-bearer of God is a life of worship, of loving service to God and to the neighbors for love is “the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10) and love, “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14). Love for God is the heart of what it means to be the image of God for it is the fulfillment of the law, and was at the heart of the life of Christ[10].

Christ’s life and the words of Scripture reveal that love for God and the love for people that springs from the love of God is central to being an image-bearer of God. Jesus also tells his disciples that, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). This love, therefore, is the identifying mark of the believer of Christ and the true sign of the extent to which a man is bearing forth God’s image. The true disciples of Christ are the true image-bearers of God, who though bearing it imperfectly now, will one day be made the perfect image-bearer (see Rom 8:29, II Cor 3:18) but until then, they are growing in the degree to which they bear forth his image. Because the believer grows in his image-bearing of God and of Christ by growing in his love for God and his neighbor, growing in the degree to which God’s image is born is not a process carried out in isolation but carried out in community with the body of Christ, the church, who Christ is sanctifying, nourishing, and cherishing (Eph 5:26,29). In Hoekema’s words, growing in bearing God’s image by growing in love  means that[11]:

The restoration of the image of God in man takes place in the church, through the fellowship of Christians with each other. Believers learn what Christ-likeness is by observing it in fellow Christians. We see the love of Christ reflected in the lives of our fellow believers; we are enriched by Christ through our contact with them; we hear Christ speaking to through them. In the context of the church—God’s chosen people together living in response to His grace—, the believer is constantly challenged to grow in holiness, and in the context of the church the love of Christ for His people is displayed in how His people love one another in his name. This means that the image of God as displayed by the church is much fuller than the sum of its parts, because the church, and not the believer, “is [Christ’s] body, the fullness of him…” (Eph 1:23) who is the perfect image-bear of God.

Because the love for God is the heart of what it means to bear forth his image, it can also be said that a right relationship with God is at the heart of what it means to be the image-bearer of God for to love God is to be in right relationship with him. God created man not just to bear forth his image to creation by serving as his representative over the earth, but also to bear his image by being in relationship with Him. While God speaks all of creation into existence in the Genesis account, to man alone he gives the ability to speak back, and not out of loneliness or need for company but out of the overflow of love, grace, and joy that is God. Man is not the image-bear of God because of what makes him biologically superior to the animal but because of the relationship he can have with God[12]. To bear the image of God is to live in union with God, to follow and serve him, and to love Him for what He has done for man—in  creating and sustaining him, for withholding his wrath when he rebels, and for redeeming him—and for who He is in all of His perfections, beauty, and loveliness. To bear the image of God as He intended man to is to live a life in gratitude in response to his grace, in response to the knowledge of God’s saving work.

The question of the what it means to be created as an image-bearer of God is, at least from the Christian perspective, also the question of purpose. Why did God create man? The Westminster catechism states that, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (or as Piper would have it, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”[13]). In connection to His purpose for man, God also gives man a multitude of commands which can all be summarized as love God and love people. Since God is one these commands must also be in union with his creation of man in his own image. And so to be created in the image of God does not just mean, as some theologians hold, that man possesses some quality, such as  reason or language, which sets him above the animals because all of these qualities can be used to rebel against God. To be an image-bearer of God, to represent him, is to love Him, to know Him, to serve Him, to enjoy Him—they are all synonymous—even if it means dying for Him because to know Him is eternal life (Jn 17:3). The fullness of life is only found in God and that life is only experienced while bearing the image of God, while living in right relationship with Him, while serving and loving Him.

Obviously, there is no way that a paper of this size could hope to begin to cover what it means for man to be created in the image of God. Many books have been written on the subject, going into much deeper and more thorough detail of the topic, covering lines of thought and ideas that space does not permit this paper to discuss. Only passing reference was given to the believer’s  future state as the perfect image-bearer of God. Very little space was given to discussing the aspects in which man is still the image-bearer of God even after the Fall, even while living in rebellion to God. Little discussion  was given to the process of the restoration of the image of God in the believer by the work of the Spirit in Christ. The only thing covered in any detail was what the image of God looks like in the one who has faith in Christ and is being sanctified by the Spirit, and yet so much more could have been said about this topic And how many more insights into this small part of what it means to be created in the image of God do I simply lack to the wisdom to perceive? Yet, this lack of thorough covering of the topic does not mean that this topic was not worthwhile to explore in this paper for in considering the what it means to be created in the image of God, we also consider the nature of the Object whose image we bear, and by doing so, by “beholding the glory of the Lord, [we are transformed] into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (II Cor 3:18)

 

[1]  Hoekema, Anthony A. Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, Michigan:William B. ErdMans Publishing 1986), p34

[2]  Irenaeus. Against Heresies Trans. Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol 1. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1885) Accessed 27 April, 2011. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103.htm III.23.5

[3]  Created in God’s Image. 38

[4]  Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed John T. McNeil. Trans Ford Lewis Battles.(Louisville Westminster 1960) I.15.4

[5]  Created in God’s Image. 50

[6]  Douma, J. The Ten Commandements. Trans by Nelson D. Kloosterman. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey P&R Publishing 1996) 51.

[7]  Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version ( Crossway Bibles 2001)

[8]The Institutes. I.15.4

[9]The Ten Commandments 50

[10]  Created in God’s Image. 22

[11]Created in God’s Image. 89

[12]Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith. (Zondervan 2011) 389

[13]Piper, John. Desiring God (Multnomah Publishing, Sisters, Oregon 2003) 17.

Shouts of Joy

During the Sovereign Grace 2016 Pastors Conference, CJ Mahaney delivered a sermon entitled, From Tears to Shouts of Joy. The message focused on the Psalms.
CJ Mahaney is currently Senior Pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville and was previously President of Sovereign Grace Churches.
In his sermon, Mahaney overflows with enthusiasm and passion, as he does in many of his messages, about the importance of the Psalms in the life of church leaders and how important it is to faithfully teach the Psalms to the congregation.
“The Psalms are not prized anymore,” said Mahaney early on in his message.
He emphasized the beauty of the Psalms and how they communicate the emotions and feelings that all men feel and struggle with.
“There’s not an emotion you can feel and articulate that is not in the Psalms. The Psalms teach us how to feel,” the pastor emphasized. “The Psalms have every conceivable experience.”
Mahaney referred to the Biblical poetry of the Psalms as “God-breathed poetry” and that they are a unique gift of God. According to him, they also help us pray.
“Psalms allow us to ponder and digest and pray in a soundbite culture,” he said.
CJ used Psalm 126:1-3 specifically as what he called a Psalm of reflection, retelling the excitement and joy of God’s people as they looked back on what the Lord had done for them.
The pastor is such an enthusiastic speaker and it’s hard not be carried along with his excitement and zeal and this was obvious as he shared from Psalm 126, particularly in verse 2, which says, “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy.”
“Laugh at the wonder of it,” he said.
CJ’s point in this passage? That the Psalms should bring us joy, make us reflect on what God has done and encourage us to cherish them as a church from the top down.
“Leaders must prize Psalms for members to prize them,” he said.
Another great point in CJ’s message was his correlation between the Psalms and farming. He said that many of the concepts in the Psalms were taken from the world of agriculture i.e., planting and sowing seeds.
“The Psalms show hope in sowing certain promises of God,” Mahaney said, but also added that sometimes there is the sowing of tears, referring again to the emotions of the Psalms. “Those who sow in tears will have them replaced with joy.”
He also compared Jesus’s death to “sowing himself and reaping through his resurrection.”
Surprisingly CJ added another aspect to this concept of sowing, referring specifically to leaders in the church. He said that as church leaders, we are going to always be sowing seeds but that when hardship comes, many leaders quit.
“We’re going to die sowing but if you’ve put down your bag of seed, pick it back up,” he said passionately.
CJ made it clear in this sermon that the Psalms can be hard to understand at times and because we love ourselves more than God, we may not dig deep to uncover the truths in them.
“These are the hymns of our savior. We should have joy because it’s all the Lord’s doing,” he said.
Other sermons available from the 2016 Sovereign Grace Pastor’s Conference are Entrusting Those we Serve to God, by Jared Mellinger, The Reward for Being Faithful, by Rick Gamache, Making the authority of Scripture Practical, by John Piper, and others.
These messages can be found at www.sovereigngrace.com.

“Union with Christ” review

Several weeks ago I read through Tony Reinke’s Desiring God article: get link Top 16 Books of 2016; number 2 on the list is Rankin Wilbourne’s click here Union With Christ: The way to Know and Enjoy God. Wilbourne was not an author I was familiar with, but as it was so highly rated by Reinke as well as by Tim Keller, I decided to give it a try and read the book over the Christmas break.
One of Wilbourne’s main points is that the doctrine of our union with Christ has fallen to the wayside in recent years and is no longer widely preached or taught about even though it has been historically understood to be a central theme of the Biblical teaching of salvation. He quotes Puritan Thomas Goodwin as saying, “Being in Christ, and united to him, is the fundamental constitution of the Christian” (107), and John Murray, a twentieth century professor of systematic theology as saying, “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ. Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation…” (108). In short Wilbourne is in agreement with Kevin DeYoung’s assertion in his book, The Hole in Our Holiness, that, “Union with Christ may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of.”
The doctrine of our union with Christ refers to our relationship with Christ. A couple pictures used to describe it are the image of a vine and the branches in John 15, a husband and wife in Ephesians 3, and a head and the body in Colossians 1. Paul refers to it many times throughout his epistles with the phrase “in Christ” or “in him.” There are two aspects to our union with Christ. The first is, as already stated, that we are in Christ. Because we are in Christ, means that Christ represents us and all that he has done for us is applied for us. Because we are in Christ, his righteousness is counted as ours (Rom 4), we are counted adopted sons of God, and coheirs with Christ (Rom 8), and we made partakers of the triune community (John 17). Because Christ is in us, we are guaranteed that we can and will change, that the completion of our sanctification is inevitable, that we can resist temptation with the power of Christ, and that we can love the unlovable. In short because we are in Christ and Christ is in us, has, “become to us wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption…” (1 Cor 1:30).
Possibly the most helpful chapter for me was chapter 3, entitled Why we need it: Two Songs Playing in Our Head. When I first read the chapter title, I assumed the two songs would be something along the lines of the song of God, which calls us to faith, love, and obedience, and the song of the world, which calls us to trust and live for the things of this world instead of God. Wilbourne did not go in that direction, however, and I am so glad he did not, because the direction he took it helped address conflict that I have had but have never been able to put words to. The two songs Wilbourne describes are the song of “believe the gospel…more” and the song of “obey Jesus…more.” In short we can see two streams of thought running parallel through the Bible that we can struggle to reconcile to one another. On the one hand, the song of grace calls us to embrace the reality that we have been and are loved and saved by God. As in the parable of the prodigal sons, God the Father has seen us from far off and has seen us, had compassion on us, and run and embraced us even though we have done nothing to deserve such treatment.
On the other hand, Jesus clearly commands us to a radical, uncompromising obedience to himself, saying “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). There is a great deal of tension between the two: on the one hand in light of the freely given grace of God, I should rest in what God has done for me, recognizing that nothing I can do can make me righteous before God for I already am righteous in his sight. Yet, the commands of Jesus make clear that I cannot rest but must be giving more and more of my life over to him. That he is owed my complete obedience, my absolute surrender, and that, “no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
How are these two “songs” reconciled? In our union with Christ. Because we are in Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that we are secure in Christ and that nothing can separate us from his love, and because Christ is in us we can live with his single-minded, God glorifying obedience. As Wilbourne says, “undiluted grace and uncompromising obedience meet in the person of Christ. He is always full of both…Because of your union with Christ, the songs of ‘Extravagant Grace’ and ‘Radical Discipleship’ can no more be separated in your life than Christ himself can be torn in two” (p71).
I almost wish that he had written a whole book addressing this topic which he spends the chapter addressing, as like I said he put words on conflict that I have been feeling for sometime but did not know how to express, however instead he moves on to show how our union with Christ helps us to answer four key questions that ultimately all of us must answer. Who am I? Where am I headed? What am I here for? What can I hope for? From there he moves on to discuss what our union with Christ looks like on a day to day basis. Over the course of a couple chapters he shows how the spiritual disciplines and suffering are means by which we experience our union with Christ, i.e. how we commune with Jesus. And then just to really frustrate me, in the last chapter, over the course of a page or two each, he brings up several other things that flow from our union with Christ (all of which could have easily had a chapter devoted to each, if not whole books), and to summarize the entire chapter in a sentence: “union with Christ means that we are part of a larger family, a broader mission, a longer story, a bigger world, and a deeper love” (p264).

 

If you would like to learn more about our union with Christ you can check out Desiring God’s 2014 Conference for Pastors where the are several sermons on the topic. I would probably start out with one of Sinclair Ferguson’s messages, here or here.

Life (on life) on Mission

Last Thursday we talked about what it looks like for us as a church to live our lives on the mission of God. The week before we finished going through a series based on Nip Ripkin’s book, The Insanity of Obedience, which discusses the current persecution that is going on in many nations around the world as a result of our brothers and sisters’ obedience to the great commission. This week we talked about the role of the church in us being faithful in our context to that great commission, and I wanted to post a brief summary of the things we talked about for anyone who was not able to be there, but also as a reminder to all of us of God’s call on our life.
One of the first things that I stated was that the great commission is not a commandment for me to obey but a commandment for us to obey. That is not to say that it has no bearing on my life individually, but that in order for it to be fulfilled—for disciples to be made of all nations—it requires the cooperative work of the church.
Even more to actually demonstrate the power of the gospel we preach requires the community of the church. We read in John 13:34-35 that, “…just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have loved one another.” From this text and from many more, it is clear that the Christian life is a life lived in community and that to attempt to follow God away from the people of God is futile and disobedience. As we read in Ephesians 2:12-22, Christ’s saving work did not just save us from our sins but it saved us to (among many other things) his body the church, who he is building together into a dwelling place for God (vs 22). All of this to say, that a vital part of Biblical evangelism is Biblical community. Biblical community gives a picture of the character and work of God and gives evidence to the transforming power of his gospel.
What does Biblical community look like? One way we can describe it is through the one another commands found through out the new testament. Tim Keller summarizes the one another commands as commands to affirm one another, share with one another, and serve one another. He further divides each of those three commands into three more commands which are:
affirm one another’s strengths, abilities, and gifts (Rom 12:10, James 5:9, Rom 12:3-8)
affirming one another’s equal importance in Christ and necessity to the work of the body
(Rom 15:7, 1 Cor 12:25, 1 Pet 5:5, James 2:1
affirming one another through physical affections (Rom 16:16, James 1:19, Eph 4:32, 1 Thess 3:12)
sharing one another’s space, goods, and time (Rom 12:10, 1 Pet 4:9, Gal 6:10)
sharing one another’s needs and burdens (Gal 6:2, 1 Thess 5:11, Heb 3:13)
sharing one another’s beliefs, thinking, and spirituality (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19, Rom 12:16, 1 Cor 1:10)
serving one another through accountability (James 5:16, Rom 15:14, Eph 4:25)
serving one another through forgiveness and reconciliation (Eph 4:2, Col 3:13, Gal 5:26, James 4:11, Mat 5:23-24; 18:15)
serving one another’s interest instead of our own (Heb 10:24, Rom 15:1-2, Gal 5:13)
(pulled from Tim Keller’s Gospel in Life pp58-70)
Obviously sermons could be preached on what each of these commands entails and how we as a body can go about following them more faithfully, but for us to grow as a body in these areas requires at least two things from each of us: time and intentionality. It requires time because none of these can happen apart from us sacrificing our time to be with one another, to listen to one another, and to get to know one another so that we can obey these things. So we can look at our use of time and ask the question are we busy doing the things God has commanded us to be busy in or are we have we filled up our time with good things that are not the best things. When we look at our prioritization of time, do we prioritize the same things the world does, or is our life built around what God has said is important? Do we make time for one another? The second thing we need to grow in these one another commands is that we be intentional in the time that we have together. Is our time together characterized with us loving one another in these ways, or is our time marked mostly by banal or self-centered conversation instead of selfless love? All this to say that if, during our time together, we open up our lives to one another but do not minister to one another with the word of God in response, we have missed the point. In other words it is possible to have community, but not have Biblical community. Where community may spend time with and love one another only for the sake of one another, Biblical community spends time with and loves one another with the goal of pointing one another to Christ and building one another up in Christ.
Perhaps the greatest one another command, even though it is not (to my knowledge) ever explicitly stated in the new testament ( although it is demonstrated to us by example in the epistles) is that we share the gospel with one another. When we share our struggles with one another in honoring God at work or our temptations toward lust, or our fears and failures in sharing the gospel, do we only call one another to repent and obey? Or do we first preach the gospel to one another, reminding us that the price of our sin has been paid by Christ so that we need not fear God’s wrath? Or do we remind one another that Christ has broken the power of sin over us so that we are dead to sin and alive in us, and that therefore in Christ we can resist sin and walk in obedience because the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from dead dwells us (Rom 8). If we call one another to follow Christ without reminding one another of who we are in Christ, i.e. what he as done for us, we fall into legalism. To walk in joyful obedience to the gospel requires us first embracing the work of Christ in us and for us.
Finally, one thing we talked about as a practical note as we seek to reach out to our friends, neighbors, and others, is that we should make attempts to involve one another in our outreach as much as we are able. If we plan on having unbelieving friends over for dinner, make attempts to involve some else in the church and have them over as well. An example of this, (not to toot my own horn, I did this at Matt’s suggestion) most Saturday mornings I go out and play soccer with a group of Mormons, and I am normally able to give the Mormon missionaries, who live across the hall from me, a ride to the fields. Whenever this happens, I try and have a couple questions ready for them to start conversations so that I can share the gospel with them. What I have started doing is inviting someone to go with me when I go out to play. So last week Seth came out and played and will try and do so in the future as well. All this to say that, often times when we go out seeking to share the gospel or minister to someone in our lives, we do not have to do so alone, and seeking to involve others from the body helps give an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in us for one another as well as to support and encourage one another.

 

So as we seek to be faithful to the great commission together, let us also seek to love and serve one another in a way that gives a picture of the love of Christ toward us and makes the power of the gospel visible to all around us.