Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Monday, February 26, 2007
"Knowing and experiencing the grace of the Lord is the bedrock of absolutely everything else in the Christian life and in the church. It is the heart of the gospel.Living by grace in Galatians...
When our hearts overflow with the knowledge of his goodness to us and the experience of his favour, then we do all these ['good Christian things'] and many more, expecting to know more grace as we step out in his service."
1. Know your identity in Christ (Gal 3.26-4.7)
2. Live out your identity in Christ (Gal 4.30-5.1)
3. Eagerly look forward to the new creation (Gal 5.5)
If I really understood the impact and goodness of God's grace, would I not be constantly asking for more? To grasp the gospel more, to be more convicted of my sin, to be more assured of forgiveness, to have a greater desire to grow, to have more fruitfulness?
Do I desire the work of the Holy Spirit in my life? Am I eager to live by the Spirit, displacing the desires of my sinful nature? Do I long for God to take hold of my character and shape it to be like his? Am I desperate for the fruit of the Spirit? Today have I counted myself dead to sin and alive to Jesus? Have I realised my uselessness before grace in my minute-to-minute thinking?
Sunday, February 25, 2007
People pleasing is something I suffer from greatly. And in short it says a lot about how much I've really understood grace. But judging myself through meeting people's standards is not Christian growth. And one of Honeysett's points is that although we're tricked into thinking meeting people's targets is growth, actually those are the very things that will inhibit our Christian growth. There's no joy in seeking to please others. Like any other false idol, there's momentary satisfaction at the raised smile, pat on the back, or the brother who's been fooled by your biblical spiel, but it's hollow. We're ensnared by the expectation of others.
According to Paul, we're justified, not by working for salvation, but by trusting God and putting faith in him. Trusting him means we don't think we have to pay back. And life as a Christian, growing in holiness is no different. Saved by grace, live by grace. (Can I caveat here and say Honeysett does acknowledge the emphasis in the NT on working out one's salvation, but picks this up later in the book and says it's still a reliance on God's power).
Honeysett draws on the false teaching recalled in Galatians, with Christians being told that fullness of Christian living came from obeying the law of Moses. But measuring our performance of good works alienates us from Christ, and encourages us to forget about grace and trust ourselves. We're thus robbed of assurance and the Holy Spirit's power to sanctify us.
Grace is criticial for joy: when we realise there is nothing we can do to make ourselves holy, then we recieve God's grace with complete and utter joy. Grace stops us being people pleasers. Remembering grace means that we don't see a need to people please. People pleasing misleads, and it undermines the good news of grace. Neglecting grace saps power from the Christian life: when we bank our hopes on other things, we're distracted from the place where real righteousness if found: Jesus Christ.
I think it's terribly difficult to identify how the legalism of Galatia translates into 21st century evangelical Christianity. In fact the very process sort of becomes a legalistic ticklist. It could come under anything: judging yourself on how much you've read the Bible this week, doing something simply to look good, hiding sin to appear more godly. There are tonnes of great things to be doing as Christians, which arise naturally out of a desire to serve each other and to serve our Father in Heaven, but a quick intention slip can transform them into legalistic pitfalls where we're simply feeding to expectations of our Christian subculture. I guess we just need to stay close to the message of the cross, the gospel of grace, the word of life. For in view of Jesus Christ we will be humbled and realise once again that it is by grace that God works in us.
Steve Chalke's comments in The Lost Message of Jesus are probably but the visible tip of a mammoth iceberg that is subtlely undermining Scripture's rich but clear revelation about what God was doing at Calvary 2000 years ago. Garry Williams has written a few articles recently that I found very useful when defending the penal and substitutionary nature of Jesus' death in a Theology essay last year, and Jim Packer's RTSF monologue What did the Cross achieve? is a classic work of recent years. But I can't think of such a systematic study of the biblical texts, the history of the doctrine, and the common ways in which penal substitution is called into question that has been quite so extensive. I hope in fifty years, God willing, I'll have a well-worn and much-prized copy of this on my bookshelf.
You can read John Piper's foreword on the book's site here, but here's a snippet that caught my eye:
There was only one hope for me – that the infinite wisdom of God might make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I might become a son of God.
This is exactly what happened, and I will sing of it forever. After saying that I was by nature a child of wrath, Paul says, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph. 2:4-5 ESV). What a grievous blindness when a teacher in the church writes that the term ‘children of wrath’ cannot mean ‘actual objects of God’s wrath . . . [because] in the same breath they are described as at the same time objects of God’s love’. On the contrary. This is the very triumph of the love of God. This is the love of God – the ‘great love with which he loved us’. It rescued me from his wrath and adopted me into sonship.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
This morning a few of us took the short train journey up to Newcastle, and then the metro to Jesmond, to hear Chris Wright from Langham Partnership International, and Vijay Menon from St. Helen's speak at Crossing Cultures, an event put on by Friends International. It was a great day, and a great chance to have my eyes opened to the massive plans God has for the whole world, and to see those plans being unravelled before my very eyes.
Chris' work on reading the whole Bible in relation to Mission was really insightful, with the big point being actually mission is more than our 'mission' activity, for actually God's committed to his mission. Interesting interlocking with my reading on Goldsworthy over the last few weeks: Wright says that the Bible points to Christ, for the Messiah is God's 'anointed agent' to fulfil the mission of Israel, which was to bring God's blessing to the nations. It helped me to see how Israel fits into God's plan, as well as looking at Jesus' role within that plan, and then our role as the church.
5 tips for reading the whole Bible for Mission:
Reading it in light of:
1. God's purpose for the whole creation (guilty of rarely bringing this into focus)
2. God's purpose for all human life (not really thought-through this before)
3. The election and role of Israel in God's purposes for the nations (have barely considered this, apart from a glance at Romans 2-3)
4. The messianic identity of Jesus (often don't see this so tangibly)
5. The mission of the church to the nations (very often don't see the church like this)
Vijay spoke about Hinduism, which is something I've never encountered, and also reminded us of the importance of prayer (Mark 10.27) and the word of God (John 6.63) in witnessing to the nations. Why is it that golddust is so often disregarded and left in one's pocket?
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Some Psalms essay prep on the use of the psalms in interpreting the passion of Jesus in the NT.
Some reading on the history of typology in Biblical interpretation for the dissertation.
And polishing off a report on sociological approaches to the household codes in 1 Peter.
My Dad asked us last night if we'd change our degree courses looking back at two and a half years of 'study'. I don't think I would exchange reading Theology for any other subject. It's hard to judge where Theology has indirectly affected my thinking, and even more so where it has shaped my living (and I would not want to be so ignorant as to say that there has never been any connection, especially a negative one, for the subtle hardening of the heart to God's word will affect one's life). Yet Scripture should always make sense. Not in a sensible worldy sense, but in a as-logical-as-the-cross-can-be sense.
I mean looking at these household codes in 1 Peter, the argument went that actually all they are is the writer using a standard form of writing (the household code) to get across the message that the Christian sect should assimilate to the pagan way of life to keep the pagans happy and to ease persecution. And it looked like a convincing line.
But actually, give the Scripture some space and it'll tell you what's really going on. 1 Peter isn't about assimilation at all - sure there are times when the Christian is to act in a way that could easily look like a pagan (general obedience to the governor), but at the same time there is a distinctness that is attached to the fact that the Christian community are living for a different value, a living hope.
The gospel calls people to live differently, and that's the same 1900 years ago. And you can see that as you sociologically, historically, psychologically pummel away at these documents. They make sense, because they're real. They happened. They're living proof that the gospel changes people and makes history, and they're changing people and making history today.
1 Corinthians 15.20 is a key verse in Paul's argument in that chapter:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Christ is the firstfruits of a resurrection harvest that includes US (v23). It is a guarantee of future bodily resurrection. The way in which the NT describes the event has that now-but-not-yet vibe, as we're described as already being raised, yet still await a future resurrection.
Gaffin goes on to talk about how we do tend to polarise justification and sanctification, with the latter often just being our response of gratitude for the former. He writes that actually Jesus' resurrection teaches us that we should give intense attention to the eschatological nature of sanctification, and the present work of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is Christ, the life-giving Spirit himself, and his enduring work is manifest in fruits (Gal 5.22,23). So, it is in these fruits that we get a preview of the new creation, not in some suped-up experience. And in case we stray into an over-realised new creation living now, Paul makes it clear that the resurrection life on this earth now is cross-shaped...
'...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.'
But what marvellous truth... Christ is raised! We too will be raised! Don't forget it, wander from it, cover it up. You're in the process of being sanctified... work hard at it... Christ is the first-fruits! It's nearly harvest time.
Friday, February 16, 2007
We have been GRANTED by HIS DIVINE POWER...
... all things that pertain to life and godliness...
...through the KNOWLEDGE of HIM who CALLED US to his own glory and excellence...
...BY WHICH he has GRANTED TO US his precious and very great PROMISES...
...SO THAT through them you may become partakers of the DIVINE NATURE...
...having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
Everything we need to live the full Christian life is given to us in our knowledge of him - do I believe it? Do I feel incomplete, like I need something more? He's already given me everything I need for life and godliness, a.k.a. the godly life. The fear of Peter is that I don't grasp the full wonder of what I already have. We know God - it is this knowledge that holds the power for the Christian life.1.5-9
For THIS VERY REASON, make EVERY effort to supplement your faith with...
...Virtue, and virtue with...
...Knowledge, and knowledge with...
...Self-Control, and self-control with...
...Steadfastness, and steadfastness with...
...Godliness, and godliness with...
...Brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with...
For if these are yours, and are INCREASING, they keep you from being INEFFECTIVE or UNFRUITFUL in the KNOWELDGE of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But if you lack these qualities, you're so SHORT-SIGHTED that you're BLIND, having FORGOTTEN you were CLEANSED from your former sins.
This knowledge needs to be put into practise, and it's striking that this takes the form of MAKING EVERY EFFORT to add to our faith. Often knowing and experiencing God is seen as a passive experience, 'let go and let God'. Not here. Trust God and get going! Peter lists seven key fruits on the tree of faith: Faith expresses itself in action (virtue), and this experience deepens our knowledge of ourselves, highlighting the need for self-control in all areas of our life, which will lead to steafastness as we keep on keeping on, never giving up in the battle, and that will lead to godliness as we become aware of him and a need for reverence in all areas of our life, which will ultimately take the shape of brotherly affection, loving people as we accept, care, carry people, which is love, the 'crown of Christian advance'.1.10-11
Two ways to live... increasing in these areas, with sleeves rolled up, working hard...
...OR with stunted growth - 'blind' - forgetting the cross, forgetting God, forgetting the call to godliness (4).
Be all the more DILIGENT to make your calling and election SURE,
for if you PRACTISE these things you will never fall (away).
For, there will be richly PROVIDED FOR YOU, an entrance into the ETERNAL KINGDOM of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The point of 10-11 isn't to make your pharisaically ponder whether or not actually you are chosen, called, elected... the point is to make you work hard! How do you know if you are chosen? By living the life of a chosen person, for if you do these you will never fall away but will recieve the rich and glorious reward of Him. Don't cruise along passively hoping to grow in godliness - that is short-sighted. Rather, knowing you have all you need, go full throttle and add to your faith.
I first heard Jensen last Summer in the form of a couple of tapes from his last big trip to the UK in the 1980's. The talks were a haunting wake-up call to the reality of the state of the UK church back then. He's a man who has been gifted with brutal honesty, razor-sharp perception, and he's a delight and a discomfort to hear.
These new talks (2 lectures and an exposition on Matthew 5-7) are well worth listening to. Yorkshire Gospel Partnership have done us all a massive favour by uploading them, and you can check the three talks out here.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Dinner this evening was the aforementioned Steak Pie. It had been billed as something special over the last few months, and finally my housemate came up with the goods. It was impressive. There's some English expression about biting off more than you can chew, which is my subtle link from steak pie to how I currently feel about my dissertation. I picked up some cheap book from Oxfam today, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. It's a catchy title and, fair play, it did the trick and I handed over my money. It's fairly interesting so far, pretty light, unlike my dissertation which is currently of microscopic proportions.
Apparently it's no coincidence that today is Valentine's Day, as 'writing a dissertation is very much like being in a long-term relationship: there are likely to be some very good times and some perfectly dreadful ones, and it's a big help if you like what you've chosen.' Very nice. Also worked out that dissertations don't buy you chocolates on Feb 14th.
Thankfully I'm not regretting what I've chosen, it's just I wish I'd treated her better over the last few months. Roughly speaking I'm comparing the nature of biblical interpretation in the writings of John Calvin and Graeme Goldsworthy. Calvin, you'll probably be aware, was a sixteenth-century French Reformer, and Goldsworthy is still alive, Australian, and has written a handful of quality books on how the Bible fits together. I could think of much worse things to spend 12,000 words and goodness knows how many hours on. I've got until April to put in some serious hours reading and writing, so today's a wake-up-and-smell-the-steak-pie day.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
1. The effect of the law is to give men knowledge of sin as a dynamic reality within themselves, of rebellion against God, and of disobedience to his commands (7.7, 13).
2. The method by which the law gives this knowledge is by declaring God's prohibitions and commands, which goad men into rebellion and make men more aware of specific transgression into which sin has led them (7.8, 19, 23)
3. The law gives no ability to anyone to perform the good which it prescribes, nor can it deliver from the power of sin (7.9-11, 22-24).
It seems there are two sections, each starting with a summary statement of the thesis which is then explained in the following verses:
- 7.7-13 - Past tense, and naturally autobiographical. Thesis: 'I had not known sin, except through the law' (7.7).
- 7.14-25 - Present tense, which would suggest Paul's current experience, but seems a depressing read. Thesis: 'I am of the flesh, sold under sin' (7.14).
Is the 'wretched man' Paul?
Paul's switch to the singular (7.14) from the plural (7.5-7), the emphatic 'I' of (7.14, 17, 24, 25), and the spontaneous cry of 'Wretched man that I am!' all point towards this being an experience that is personal to him.
Paul of the past?
Some hold that Paul of v14-25 is the same unconverted Paul as in v7-13, with it being simply a comment on the events of 7-13. The argument goes that the tense is present to create vividness, as Paul looks back (e.g. Bultmann). The logic follows that the wretchedness is thus the failure of Paul's religious self-effort, after seeking righteousness by works and not finding it. The answer is the gospel of grace of 8.1-4, and thus the praise of v25 is proclaming past or present deliverance.
Paul of the present?
a) In the present tense as it is a present state: A remarkable change from aorist to present tense in 7.14. Unnatural in the middle of a sentence dealing with a single unit of experience and an experience supposedly in the past. If there is no recognised linguistic idiom to explain it, then surely Paul's readers would have understood a shift in timeframe. Would Paul wantonly obscure his own meaning to allow misunderstanding?
b) Praise makes little sense for a step backward: The praise of 25a appears somewhat peculiar if it is followed by 25b, and comes as a major anticlimex. That is, if one assumes 25a is celebrating the past/present deliverance. Yet to still have to face 25b is surely a step-backward for this view of 14-25.
c) An optimistic, thus contradictory, view of unregenerate man: How can an unregenerate man approve of the law (7.16), delight in it (7.22), be willing to fulfill it (7.15, 18-21), and serve it (7.22), if elsewhere the heart and mind of unregenerate Adam is blind, corrupt, lawless and at enmity with God? Compare this especially with 8.5. Surely this is not a man in Adam, but a man in Christ.
d) Making sense of his current state: The cry of 24 - 'who will deliver me from this body of death?' - is the cry for deliverance from mortal bodies, for a time when 'the mortal puts on immortality' (1 Cor 15.54), a consumnation backed by 8.23. And so the praise of 25a must be for future deliverance, and so 25b ceases to be problem as that is the present reality still, the conclusion of the current state of affairs. He serves the law of God with his mind in wanting and willing to keep it perfectly, yet with the flesh serves the law of sin, seen in never being able to keep the law.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Apologetics is not for philosophical experts... when Peter writes his letters he writes them to the church (1 Peter 3.15,16): - 1. Set apart Christ as Lord; 2. Be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have. Not a complex specialist talk, but a command to the church: You must be prepared and ready, to give an answer, an apologia for the hope you have. Not an increase in profoundness to make more confusion, but to add profundity to clear confusion.
1 Peter 3... Well, what if people aren't asking... well the quality of our lives should be prompting questions, for surely that's the context of 1 Peter 3. It is a spiritual discipline for the mind. 2 Cor 10.5 - 'we demolish arguments... and take every thought captive to obey Christ'. It's not an intellectual struggle, but what is being assumed in 1 Peter and taught in 2 Cor is that the spiritual battle involves the mind.
Our reason for hope is JESUS!
It is more than giving 'answers'... there's more to apologetics than giving answers to questions, but also asking questions of other people's answers or even asking questions of the questions themselves.
Asking questions allows people to open up within their cultural assumptions...
Luke 20.22... should we pay our taxes... our answer is automatically 'yes'. Why doesn't Jesus use 'yes'? Because it's a cultural trap (v20) - asking questions exposes their trap - the Jews knows they are God's chosen people oppressed by Romans - paying taxes finances oppression of God's people thus moral compromise, but if you refuse to pay taxes you're breaking the law...
Jesus answers their question... pay your taxes, but paying your taxes is not a compromise, for holiness is giving to God what is God's. To say 'yes' is to not communicate to culture...
E.g. 'is abortion wrong?'... now, you want to say 'yes'. But if you say 'yes', they'll think you're narrow-minded, hate women. In the world's eyes it's a choice situation - dictators get rid of choice, so you're showing God as a dictator. A cultural assumption asks the wrong question... it assumes 'do you think its ok to eliminate people's choices by force if necessary?'. 'Is this a human life?' is the real question: 'when is it right to kill a human person?' Giving the right answer to the wrong questions is always wrong. Jesus is defining the issue. 'Supposing I thought life began at conception, what would abortion make me?' - you've communicated.
'Does your mother know you are stupid?' - a faulty dilemma... artificially limiting options. You have to introduce another option...
20.41 - won't morally compromise: who's authority?
Asking questions makes people think... you think and work out the answer yourself. Saying I am a person of faith... tells people you have leapt into the dark... when is that used in Scripture. I'm not sure if it's true or real. Faith is a gift but not a gift to believe in something unreal! Faith in the OT... is nowhere! In Hab 2.4, it is a verb - a process of putting weight and trust in something true and real. In Gk, 2 words for faith: pistis (from verb 'to be persuaded' - so, noun carries connotations of persuaded of its truth and reality) and nomisto (to describe belief with no specific basis, e.g. in their own Gk gods).
In the English language upto middle-english period, faith was a verb. Putting trust in something, sure of its reality. But now, it means something different. The more you are convinced of God's reality and truth, the more you will lean on him! Only response to a God who is true and real! How can asking questions be a problem.
'Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life...' believe in me? Why doesn't Jesus say that? Didn't he understand the gospel? If there is a heaven, how would you get there? 'Be good!' - 'How can you condemn all these good people?' If you don't get where they're coming from, they'll disagree - shows you haven't nailed it. We're dealing with people. Luke 10 & 18 - the same question, different answers.
Asking questions exposes people's motives...
Luke 20.2-4 - 'we don't know' - that's not true, you're not being honest, neither will I answer you... Exposing motives is very helpful, and how they respond is instructive. Recover the courage to ask people how they'll respond to the claims of Christ. 'If I asked you to become a Christian now, what would be holding you back?' Giving an apologetic is giving a reason for the hope we have - it must flow from the cross, for that is where our hope stems from. Any apologetic that doesn't take us to the gospel isn't an apologetic... it may be initially useful, but we can't leave them there saying we've given an apologetic. The answer for the reason for the hope we have must be Christ!
Schaeffer: 'The greatest problem we have as a church is that we don't understand what the questions are, let alone the answers'. The goal must be the cross, in any conversation, situation.
Ramsden: 'If I were to answer your question adequately, would you give your life to Christ?'
Ramsden: 'Then what is this issue?'.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
It's been a real privilege to witness Danno's sincerity, his respect for the listener, his gracious tone and words, doing everything he can to make the gospel clear and easy to listen to. We were also joined by a large team of Christian Union guests from around the country who all gave up a week to serve in Durham this week. It was great to be able to chat to them, and be encouraged and enthused from their wisdom.
'Truth claims are power claims and we're annoyed Jesus is making power claims on our lives. Jesus calls us to turn our lives around, not to make a hobby.'Christianity Explored kicks off this coming week, as we pray students will come along and think through Jesus' words over a coffee in small groups. It's exciting seeing a kingdom grow, seeing revolutionaries come together around a symbol of folly.
All the talks are now available for download here.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
It's been a joy to be joined by Christian Union guests from all over the country who've come up to spend the week in colleges, meeting up with students, and speaking at events - grace means people serve.
It's been great to read in Jonah of the grace of God - salvation belongs to Him - and this is the salvation we hold out this week - what purpose there is to evangelism, the saving of souls, and the glory of God.
Pray we'd be sustained, and stay close to Jesus.