Monday, August 1, 2022

Quiet, obedient, and good

We were back in town over the weekend, attending a weekend Bible conference. I was thumbing through the song book and found an old friend:

There once was a wild little donkey,
He had to be tied to a tree,
And Jesus was thinking about him;
He said, "Go and bring him to Me."

And when they had brought him to Jesus
As quickly as ever they could,
That restless, that wild little donkey
Was quiet, obedient and good.

When Jesus was riding upon him,
He went just the way that he should,
A quiet, submissive wee donkey
Made so by the blest Son of God.

And Jesus is able to make you
Whatever He wants you to be.
He loves you and longs to forgive you
And make you both happy and free.

It's a favorite of the under-four crowd: at least one of them requests "The donkey song" when given a chance. They seem to lose interest when they get to school age, which is a pity. I think my own [teen-aged] kids were probably embarrassed when I'd sing it in the car on the way home from meeting.

Every once in a while someone wants to sing "Yield not to temptation." I think if we just sang "The donkey song" instead, we'd be in much better shape.

Monday, July 25, 2022

God's heart

God's words to Abraham in Genesis 18:17–22 surprise me every time, 

And Jehovah said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grievous,

I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come to me; and if not, I will know [it]. (Genesis 18:20–21)

God says something shocking here: the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great that it rises to Heaven, so I came down to see if it's really all that bad. It's like God is reluctant to judge, not because He doesn't hate sin, but because He loves sinners.

It makes us uncomfortable to say that kind of thing; maybe it should.  We tend to have a conception of God that leans to the placid, staid, and maybe even a bit sterile.  But scripture describes God's response to sin and judgment in terms of human emotions: He is angry (Psalm 110:5), wrathful (Hosea 13:11), even heartbroken (Ezekiel 6:9, ESV).  Verses like this show the brittle edges of our theologies: they show places where our understanding of what and who God is break down.

And just like scripture isn't afraid to describe God as angry, it describes Him as reluctant to judge. He "devises means" to avoid driving out His banished one (2 Samuel 14:14). Not even Ahab (1 Kings 21:25) is beyond God's compassion (1 Kings 21:29).

Newer translations use "relent" instead of "repent", but if you look in an older translation (I checked KJV, Darby, and ASV), you'll find the only person in the whole book of Jonah who repents is God (Jonah 3:9–10,  Jonah 4:2). It's surprising, because both Jonah and the Ninevites have a whole lot to repent of. But only God is said to repent in the book of Jonah.

We've talked before about our tendency to try to explain away verses that make us uncomfortable. We don't like the "if" passages in the Epistles: we'd rather jump into an explanation than to let them cut our consciences. In the same way, we don't like verses about God repenting, or about His heart breaking. We want to jump in and give an explanation. But it's wiser to listen. We should allow God's words to work in and on us, instead of diluting them with our own.

Genesis 18:20–21 is God's own description of His coming to down. He had heard the cry of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in Heaven, because it was so great. And instead of pouring out judgment and wrath from Heaven in response, He came down to see if it was really that bad.

And maybe that explains Abraham's negotiations with God (Genesis 18:23–32).  Abraham begins to intercede on Sodom's behalf, and negotiates with God, if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom, will God still destroy it? No, God won't destroy Sodom if there are fifty righteous people there. And so Abraham talks God down to forty-five (Genesis 18:28), and then forty, and so on. He gets down as low as ten people, and then he stops (Genesis 18:32). 

An older brother I deeply respect – and I'll see him again some day (1 Thessalonians 4:14),  it'll be a big day – pointed out once that it's Abraham, not God, who ends the negotiations. God doesn't say, "that's enough, don't go below ten."  Scripture doesn't tell the story that way: God agrees to ten, and Abraham stops there.

I've often wondered how low God would have gone, if Abraham had pressed the issue. I think Jeremiah 5:1 gives us a hint. God tells Jeremiah, if you can find just one righteous man, I'll pardon Jerusalem. Of course we can't say for sure God would have pardoned Sodom for just one righteous man, but certainly that's the number He had in mind for Jerusalem.


When the children of Israel made a calf and worshiped it at Sinai, God sent Moses away. When Moses comes back into God's presence, he makes one of the most heartbreaking statements in Scripture, "Alas, this people has sinned a great sin, and they have made themselves a god of gold!" (Exodus 32:31). Apparently spending forty days and nights in God's presence had had an effect on Moses, and he saw the heartbreak in their idolatry.

I have found these passages fruitful for meditation. Psalm 107 exhorts us, "whoso is wise, let him observe these things, and let them understand the loving-kindnesses of Jehovah" (Psalm 107:43). We cannot be wise without fearing the Lord (Proverbs 9:10),  and we cannot be wise without meditating on His loving-kindness.

If I spent more time in God's presence, I might be more like Moses. Moses was angry, even violent in response to their sin. But then he went back to God's presence and said "Alas!"  It's possible to be angry with sin without any particular spirituality. The flesh is good at anger, and we're good at hiding it behind a veneer of supposed holiness.  But "Alas" seems to take more: it takes time in God's presence to react with an "Alas!" 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Sacred things

Several years ago, some friends asked me to perform their wedding ceremony. After a check on the legal requirements for a wedding, I was happy to do so. There was a "wedding folder" that was handed around the meeting: the deal was that you could use whatever you saw in there that you liked, but you had to put "your" wedding ceremony in there too.

When I was working with the couple to set up the actual ceremony, an "older" brother commented to me that we really don't see a whole lot about weddings in scripture. He's right, of course. I don't agree with that brother on everything, but I have yet to hear him make a misstatement about what scripture actually says. I aspire to be him someday.


Scripture has some things to say about marriage, but it's almost silent on weddings. And this turns out to be a big deal.

Ephesians 5:22–33 is a fairly long section on marriage. And we like to quote it. But it takes on a new meaning when we pause to consider that it's extremely unlikely any of the Ephesians Paul addressed had been married in a church. It seems likely they would have been married in a pagan temple. 

As an aside, when I've tried to search for "church wedding history" online, and it's hard to find anything at all. One site claims the earliest record we have of a church wedding is from Council of Carthage (398 AD) ("History of Church Weddings"). I have no idea if that's accurate, but it's the best information I could find.

That means that the scriptural definition of a Christian marriage has nothing to do with the ceremony, who conducted it, or where it was conducted. As far as Scripture is concerned, if at least one spouse is a Christian, then it's a Christian marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12–15).

If a couple was married in a Mormon temple, or town hall, or a Catholic church, or a Baptist church, or in a Buddhist ceremony, as long as one of them is a believer, then it's a Christian marriage. We should let that sink in.

I've spent a whole lot of time writing about new creation on my blog. I am convinced that a Christian is not merely a forgiven sinner, but is a new creature in Christ Jesus. I am convinced that the one who believes God is justified freely from all sins, and is acquitted in God's sight (Acts 13:39, Romans 4:5). The Old Testament saints had that too (Romans 4:1–8), what they didn't have was union with Christ.  

And I am convinced that the failure to see the Christian life as something entirely new – from an entirely new source, and with an entirely new Object – is the source of so many problems we see around us now (Galatians 6:15).

We have been buried with Christ so that we should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). And notice it's not our good intentions and hard work that empower that newness of life, but being raised with Him.

That new life – that entirely new thing we have and are in Christ Jesus – expresses itself in shockingly ordinary things. Ellis Potter points out that the Lord, having been raised from the dead, cooked fish and bread for His disciples on the beach (John 21:9–13).  So is there anything more spiritual than kindling a fire and cooking fish on it? I don't think there is.


The thought that none of the Ephesians had a Christian wedding – but they all had Christian marriages – shows that when we come to the Lord, all parts of our lives are His. He is Lord over the "Christian" parts of our lives, and He's Lord over the "non-Christian" parts of our lives.  Everything we do, even the most mundane things, are now to be done for Him, to Him, and in His name (Colossians 3:17).

The teaching of the Pauline epistles is that a Christian doesn't get to have a "Mundane" compartment and a "Holy" compartment: our whole lives are in the "Holy" compartment.

We talk a lot about our union with Christ: He died, and I died with Him (Galatians 2:19–20). He was buried, and I was buried with Him (Romans 6:4). He was raised, and I have been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). I – the man I was – was so bad that the only remedy was to put me to death (Romans 6:6). Now, I am uniquely able to bring forth fruit to God (Romans 7:4), because I have died with Him. I don't strive to have died with Christ, I accept it as true, and count on it in my thinking (Romans 6:11).

So I am a man who has died with Christ. I am a man who is waiting for a new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13), but I'm not just sitting here, waiting for them. No, I am called to live this life – the life of Jesus manifested in mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11) – in this fallen body, in a fallen world. 

Not every part of the life of the man I was is capable of resurrection. Those things are to be put to death (Colossians 3:5ff). And notice, a man who has not died cannot mortify. It is those who have already died and been raised who are called to mortify.

But there are things in a fallen man's (or woman's!) life that cannot remain after that man (or woman!) has died and been raised with Christ. And those things have to go. If we can't do it in the name of Christ, we ought not to do it.


But a shocking number of things that were part of that old life are now claimed as Christ's. God doesn't care what kind of marriage ceremony you had, your marriage is now a picture of Christ and the church. And notice, it is a picture of Christ's love: it might be a bad picture, but it is a picture.

On this side of the Cross, even what you eat and drink is Christ's business. And notice Scripture doesn't then go on to tell us what those things are (or ought to be). That would be simpler. It says we are to eat and drink them "to the Lord," even while we have freedom in choosing what they are (Romans 14:1–6).

So might say there are two compartments in the Christian life, but they aren't "Mundane" and "Sacred." They are rather, "Sacred" and "To be Mortified."  So we don't get to keep any part of our lives that aren't sacred: if part of my life isn't under Christ's lordship, then it's something I need to put off, mortify, be done with. If it's something that's allowed, then it's under His lordship, done for His glory, in His name.

I spent most of one Saturday a few years ago cooking chicken and dumplings for an assembly potluck. It was work, but it was a labor of love. At that time, I might have considered that to be non-spiritual effort. Sure, it's effort done out of love for the Lord, for His people, and to bless them. But I wouldn't have considered it to be spiritual.

But now I look back on that, and I think about how the Lord made wine for a wedding (John 2:7–10). And He baked bread and broiled fish for the disciples (John 21:9). So yes, cooking for the Lord's people is not only spiritual, but it's also following in His footsteps. It's doing something the Lord Himself considered worthwhile.

It's not a mistake in John's gospel that the "signs" in that gospel start with Lord's making wine at the wedding (John 2:11).

So there, we started out talking about weddings, and we've come back to what must have been the greatest wedding. Imagine what it would be like to have the Son of God as the sommelier at your wedding! There is a greater wedding coming, but I really do believe the wedding of the unknown couple in Cana probably ranks second.

The Lord  takes up things of this life, and calls them His own,  and puts them under His lordship, and commands us to do them for and to Him, in His name.  That makes them sacred. That sanctifies them.


Friday, July 8, 2022

Our business now

We have been called to turn to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10). He's coming from heaven to change our bodies to be like His (Philippians 3:20-21). As far as I can tell from Scripture, He could come at any moment. We do well to remember that we won't all die, but we'll all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).

It might make sense that we should just sit here, waiting for Him to come get us. But that's not the conclusion that Scripture draws. To the contrary, the scriptural conclusion is that we should be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

It was a big shift in my thinking several years ago when I realized that the hope of a bodily resurrection, and the hope of the Lord's bodily return makes Christianity intensely physical.  We're not waiting to be made less physical (2 Corinthians 5:1–4), and we're not waiting for new bodies. No, we're waiting for Him to come and redeem us, making our bodies like His. It is "with these eyes" that I shall see God (Job 19:26–27). We're not waiting for a replacement, but for a change.

John 14:3 and John 14:23 give us two different ways the Lord "comes" for us. In John 14:3, we have the Lord coming to receive us to Himself. This seems like the same event that's described in 1 Corinthians 15:51–57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. 

Frankly, this seems to me to be the single hardest thing to believe in all Scripture. I don't mean it's the hardest thing to see in Scripture. I mean it's the hardest thing to see as a reality. It means I need to be walking around seeing more than meets the eye, so to speak. It's not easy to carry that around in my head.

But that's only the first "coming" in John 14. The other is in John 14:23 – the Father and the Son will both come to abide with the one who loves the Lord Jesus and keeps His word. This second coming (yes, I did that deliberately) is evidently not physical. We don't expect the Father to come physically, for one thing. And the promise here isn't general, it's for that specific person who loves the Lord and keeps His word. So this isn't the same thing event that 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 tell us about. 

But there's a sense where this is the greater of the two. This isn't the Lord coming to deliver us from this present evil world, this is the Lord coming to be with us in it. The Father and the Son will come to abide with us – live with us – in the present evil world while we wait for the Son of God to come from heaven and save us from it.

And we might notice it's characterized the same way Colossians 3:17 characterizes how we are to do "all things." There, too, it's the Father and the Son together: we do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

I'm more and more convinced that we ought not to have two "buckets" in our lives: one for the sacred, the other for the mundane. Rather, everything we do – all things – are to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. That means that the most mundane things I do are sacred because I am "in Christ."  And it's amazing to see that the expectation that He is coming for me isn't supposed to drive me to do less here and now: it's to do it for Him, in His name, with thanksgiving.


Monday, July 4, 2022

One side or the other

For the last several months we've been attending a Reformed church. That's a change for us, and I suppose it deserves some explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's the only group of Christians we've been able to find in this area that remembers the Lord with bread and wine every week, without a lot of superstition. 

That's not to say we haven't met some really sweet Christians in this area. And it's not to say I wouldn't be a lot more comfortable in something a lot more "brethren."  And it's not to say that I've "gone Reformed." It's just to say that after we ruled out just sitting at home, and then ruled out places with crucifixes, we were left with very few gatherings that celebrate the Lord's Supper every week. 

And of course we haven't been trying to proselytize anyone, or convince anyone to become dispensationalist, or convince people to become "brethren." We're there – very simply – because we have been called to remember the Lord with other Christians, and this is where we know other Christians remembering the Lord in our area.

But of course there are some complications that come with hanging out with postmillennialists. We are united in the belief that the Lord died for our sins, was buried, rose from the dead, was seen by Cephas and the Twelve, and ascended into Heaven. And we are united in the belief that He is coming again for us. Those are the important things, the non-negotiable things. But there are some other things where we don't see eye to eye. There are some pretty big assumptions we just don't agree on. I've spent a lot of time thinking about those assumptions, and I think it's worth talking about some of those things.


After spending some time with postmillennialists, I've come to realize that some of what I had believed about Reformed Christians is really a caricature. Or at least, I've found plenty of Reformed Christians who don't believe what I always thought they did. At the same time, most of what I've heard from Reformed folks about dispensationalists doesn't bear any resemblance to any dispensationalists I've ever met. One person nodded knowingly and said, "so you believe the Church began in Acts 7."  

No, I've never met anyone who believes the Church began in Acts 7. Almost everyone I know takes an "Acts 2" position, I've heard of people who take a "post Acts 10" position, and I've actually met someone who takes an "Acts 28" position. But I've never heard of an "Acts 7 dispensationalist" before. That same person was shocked to hear that "brethren" observe the Lord's Supper. I've had to explain to a few people that "brethren" worship consists almost entirely of the Lord's Supper.

Caricatures abound.


But of course there are some real differences, and some of those are actually quite helpful to understand. So I've been having to work through those.

Some of those differences aren't too surprising, and aren't too helpful. For example, I take Darby's view of Daniel 2, because of what the text actually says. The stone cut out without hands crushes the statue into pieces and they are swept away in the wind and then the stone begins to grow into a great mountain (Daniel 2:35). I don't see any room in the passage for a kingdom that grows slowly and steadily, until gradually it replaces the kingdoms of men. 

But my point here isn't to defend my views or shoot down anyone else's: my point is that I've been working on understanding my fellow believers. My point is that I've been in a position to observe Reformed teaching up close.  And of course I've been thinking about what some of my own views would look like for someone who wasn't raised with them.


While there is a danger to oversimplifying, it seems to me many differences between  Dispensationalist and Covenant/Reformed/Reconstructionist teaching are more differences of focus rather than actual content. (I'm painting with a broad brush here) dispensationalists tend to see differences between things, while Reformed Christians tend to see similarities.

Having said that, I don't know any Reformed people who don't recognize that Acts 2 is a sea change. I don't think they're very consistent about it, but they do recognize something big happened there.

At the same time, it seems to me that many or most Dispensationalists recognize there is some continuity between the Old and New Testaments. I'm thinking here of writers like J. N. Darby, William Kelly, C. H. Mackintosh, and C. A. Coates, who are much more open to continuities than writers like Miles Stanford.  For example, we acknowledge that "the house of God" is introduced in the Old Testament (Genesis 28:17). We don't think that started in Acts 2, we understand the church has stepped into a role that was previously occupied by Israel. That doesn't mean Israel and the Church are the same thing, but it does mean  there are places we have to acknowledge Scripture doesn't make quite so stark a contrast as we might like.

There is a real difference in Romans 8: the Reformed folks believe we are in a "renewed creation," while I would argue that the entire creation is groaning, waiting for a redemption event that is still future. I agree that the Resurrection is the start of the new creation, but I'd argue that, while we're new creations in Christ, there is a greater sense of new creation that is still coming. And now that I see that written out, I think they might even agree with that synopsis.

I think the Reformed notion of "already/not yet" has some merit.

So when it comes to worldliness on the one hand and fanaticism on the other, it seems to me that there is a continuum there too. Scripture teaches and allows for us to distinguish between the body and the spirit (Romans 8:10 is explicit). But it also teaches – just as forcefully – that we are waiting for bodily redemption (Philippians 3:20–21), not for some non-corporeal "spiritual" existence (2 Corinthians 5:1–4). I think the "brethren" fascination with distinguishing between the spirit and the flesh can lead to dualism, but I equally think the Reformed fascination with the whole man can lead to worldliness.
That's a fair summary: amongst "brethren" I have observed a tendency to dualism and Platonism that seems to run contrary to scripture. Amongst Reformed Christians I see an opposite tendency to worldliness that is just as unscriptural. There's a ditch on both sides of the road.

I've found some help here in the first few verse of John's Gospel.  John 1:1 says that the Word "was with God" and the Word "was God."  So Christ is both God and distinguishable from God. I'm trying to be careful with my phrasing here, because the first few verses of John are beyond any of our understanding. At the same time, I don't see another way to understand those verses. Christ is with God, Christ is God. We don't choose between those truths, they are both always true. I think the Nicene Creed is solid here, and the Athanasian Creed as well: we don't confuse the Father and the Son, while at the very same time, we acknowledge there is one God.

It seems to me "brethren" take this one direction, while Reformed types take it the other way. Reformed types talk a lot about "our Triune God" – focusing on unity.  Brethren talk a lot about "the Father and the Son" – focusing on diversity. Both believe in the Trinity, both believe in diversity in unity, but they tend to think at opposite ends of that spectrum.

Christ, we know, is both Man and God. Again, "brethren" tend to make some distinctions in the Person of Christ that I'm not really comfortable with. It's quite common to hear someone say, "Christ is speaking here as Man" or "Christ is speaking here as God" in a Bible reading.  I think those are dangerous words, because they tend to lead (in F. E. Raven's words, ironically) to "a dissected Christ."  

At the same time, I have heard sincere Christians thank the Father for dying for us, because they failed to recognize diversity in the Godhead. No, God didn't die. And this particular error is one I've seen in every group of Christians I have encountered.

So I'm beginning to think that "brethren" types might have a tendency to see diversity and like to distinguish between things, while our Reformed friends tend to see unity and like to think more holistically.

And that might be why I see tendencies to Platonism, Gnosticism, and fanaticism in "brethren" types, while seeing tendencies to worldliness in Reformed types.  I am sure this isn't the best mental model, but I'm finding it helpful to reconcile some things in my own mind.

As an aside, I am finding it very useful – not comfortable! – to be a dispensationalist among postmillennialists. We learn some things outside our comfort zone we could not learn inside it.

Friday, June 17, 2022

A few thoughts on liberty in Christ

Following on our earlier conversation, it occurs to me that I used the expression "liberty in Christ" without really talking about is as a principle. I just sort of assumed it. We should probably take a few moments to consider what scripture says about about liberty in Christ.

Galatians 5:1 tells us we are to "stand fast"  in the liberty we have in Christ. It sounds odd to say it, but liberty in Christ is non-negotiable. As men and women in Christ Jesus, we may or may not actually practice certain liberties. But we don't have the right to abandon the liberty of our position: we have been set free in Christ, and we do not have the right to allow ourselves to fall into bondage.

Galatians 5:13 goes on to say that we have been called to liberty. If we are not living as free men and women in Christ Jesus, we are not living up to our calling. I don't think we appreciate this enough: a gospel that doesn't include liberty in Christ Jesus is false gospel.

Galatians 5:13 then tells us that we're not to use our liberty as an "occasion to the flesh."  So here's a line we cannot cross: we must not allow ourselves to fall into the false gospel of liberty-less Christianity. At exactly the same time, we must not allow ourselves to use our liberty in Christ to give the flesh opportunities to do what it does.

There is a connection here with Romans 6:14–16. If we obey sin (and remember that "sin" in Romans 6 doesn't mean "sins," but is a master who wants us as slaves), then we find we become the slaves of sin. It is possible for us to take the liberty we have in Christ Jesus and use it in such a way that we find ourselves enslaved. 

Of course, Christians who take that as an excuse to deny liberty in Christ Jesus are really denying the Gospel. So we need to walk very, very carefully here. On the one hand, we mustn't disobey Romans 6:14–16 and lose our liberty in slavery to sin. On the other hand, we mustn't disobey Galatians 5:1, denying the Gospel by not standing fast in liberty.  

We've said this so many times, but it bears repeating: law is no remedy for lawlessness. Legalism born of fear that someone might use liberty as "an occasion to the flesh" is like burning down a barn to remove a rat infestation, or amputating a finger because of a hangnail. It's a cure that's much, much worse than the disease. It's denying Christ.

Whatever sin we fear someone might fall into, denying the liberty we have in Christ Jesus is worse. We should meditate very carefully on this. The one is a sin to be repented of, the other is spitting in the face of the Son of God. There is nothing worse than that.

Romans 14:1–3 clarifies that being called into liberty doesn't mean we must practice our liberty all the same way. Notice that it's possible for our individual practices to vary: some might eat meat, some might not, but both are to do it "to the Lord."  Some might drink alcohol, some might not, but both are to do it "to the Lord." 

To put it another way, Christ has set us free both to practice and to not practice our liberty. A believer might not drink alcohol, another believer might have no problem drinking. We are forbidden from saying that the one is more spiritual than the other (Romans 14:3, 13). 

Having liberty in Christ to smoke a cigar doesn't mean we must smoke cigars, to go back to Spurgeon's example.

I have known Christians who celebrated holidays like Christmas and Easter. I have known other believers who did not. We are free to "regard a day," and we are free to "esteem every day alike" (Romans 14:5–6). But we are not free to deny the Lord.  If one believer regards all days alike, he must not judge those who regard one day over another. If another believer regards one day over another, he must not look down on the one who esteems all days alike.

See, it's not sin to eat meat, or drink wine, or celebrate holidays. It is sin to deny our liberty in Christ.

Romans 14:14 makes two different statements, and we should be careful to observe them: " I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself." There is no excuse for a Christian not to know that nothing is unclean of itself. But don't always find ourselves persuaded. So if I recognize that something isn't unclean in itself, but I just can't find myself free before God to do that thing, then I shouldn't do it. But I mustn't sin by saying it's unclean in itself.

And many others have pointed out, if we can't do something in the name of the Lord Jesus, it's not one of the "all things" we should be doing.

So those are a few thoughts about liberty in Christ Jesus. Denying liberty in Christ is sin, but we aren't obligated to practice our liberty: we might find ourselves "not eating to the Lord" or "not drinking to the Lord."  

We must not allow ourselves to be enslaved once more by making liberty in Christ Jesus an occasion to the flesh.

We must not allow ourselves to be goaded into denying the Gospel by fear that someone might take liberty in Christ too far.

And above all, whether we eat or don't eat, whether we drink or don't drink, we must do it "to the Lord." We are to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17).



Monday, June 13, 2022

Staying in His lane

Elihu tells us that if God were to "think only of Himself," the entire creation would perish (Job 34:14–15). That's a remarkable claim, and it brings us face-to-face with God in a way we don't always think of Him: He is the God who refuses to leave well enough alone. He is the God who refuses to mind His own business. He's the God who refuses to stay in His own lane.

J. N. Darby points out that God's reaction to the Fall is to ask two questions: "where are you?" (Genesis 3:9) and "what have you done?" (Genesis 3:11, 13). And he notices that God asks "where are you?" before He asks, "what have you done?"  We tend to think of those in reverse. But the bigger point is that God comes looking for man when he sins. It's a story we all know, so maybe we don't think how astonishing it is that God's reaction to the Fall is to come looking for us.

It's important we realize that God owes us nothing. He would have been perfectly just (and justified!) to simply condemn Adam, Eve, and all of their race. Were we to be thrown into hell, it would be no worse than any of us deserve. We have all sinned, we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

But God isn't content to be just. He is the God who "devises means" – the God who plots and schemes – to be merciful to sinners (2 Samuel 14:14). One of my daughters once said God stays up all night poring over the law books, looking for loopholes so that He can be merciful to us. That's not strictly biblical, but it expresses the idea of the wise woman of Tekoa. So I'll give my daughter a pass on her definitely-not-biblical-and-yet-very-correct description. And notice how this aligns with the language of Romans 3:26: one result of the cross of Christ is that God could both justify and be just.

The old preachers used to say the only time in all of Scripture when God is seen to hurry is when the Father sees the prodigal returning and runs to meet him (Luke 15:20). 

And really, isn't that the astonishing thing about Genesis 18:20–21? God calmly tells Abram that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great that its stench has risen up to Heaven. So what does He do? He comes down to see if its really all that bad. That's a remarkable thought: that God Himself would come down from Heaven, looking to see if He can give Sodom and Gomorrah one last chance. It's a remarkable glimpse into who God is.

And we've noticed before that when God invites the Son to sit on His right hand (Psalm 110:1), He promises to make all the Son's enemies His footstool. But here we are: instead of being made His footstool, we have been lifted up to sit with Him in the throne (Ephesians 2:6). God isn't content to do what He really ought to do. He insists on doing so much more.

My working definition of grace is something like "God doing what He wants to do with no regard for what we deserve." I think I mentioned that before at some point. And the more we realize how little we deserve, the more we see that it's only God's sovereign grace that we have to thank.

I don't meditate enough on this.