Whatever He promises, He will perform

Ryle

But there is one grand difference between the promises of Adam’s children and the promises of God, which ought never to be forgotten. The promises of man are not sure to be fulfilled. With the best wishes and intentions, he cannot always keep his word. Disease and death may step in like an armed man, and take away from this world him that promises. War, or pestilence, or famine, or failure of crops, or hurricanes, may strip him of his property, and make it impossible for him to fulfil his engagements. The promises of God, on the contrary, are certain to be kept. He is Almighty: nothing can prevent His doing what He has said. He never changes: He is always “of one mind:” and with Him there is “no variableness or shadow of turning.” (Job 23:13; James 1:17.) He will always keep His word. There is one thing which, as a little girl once told her teacher, to her surprise, God cannot do: “It is impossible for God to lie.” (Heb. 6:18.) The most unlikely and improbable things, when God has once said He will do them, have always come to pass. The destruction of the old world by a flood, and the preservation of Noah in the ark, the birth of Isaac, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the raising of David to the throne of Saul, the miraculous birth of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the scattering of the Jews all over the earth, and their continued preservation as a distinct people,—who could imagine events more unlikely and improbable than these? Yet God said they should be, and in due time they all came to pass. In truth, with God it is just as easy to do a thing as to say it. Whatever He promises, He is certain to perform.

J. C. Ryle, Holiness, 382–383

Links I like

Success Is Dangerous

Jared Wilson:

There is something biblically beautiful, actually, about such littleness. It appears to be the primary mode of thinking of the apostles about themselves. Paul boasts, but he boasts in his weakness. He considers his successes garbage compared to Christ’s glory. It is God’s bigness he is concerned ultimately with, not his own or that of the churches.

Get The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the hardcover edition of The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Richard Phillips (ePub)
  • Light and Heat 2011 conference messages (DVD)
  • God in Our Midst by Daniel Hyde (ePub)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

“Has my view on homosexuality changed?”

Good article from Preston Sprinkle:

I often get asked, have you changed your views after studying the topic and teaching the class? Sometimes the question is genuine; other times the questioner has a sharpened pitch-fork ready to address the wrong answer. In any case, my answer is always the same: “yes and no.”

All The Things God Is Doing When It Looks Like He Is Doing Nothing

Stephen Altrogge:

I have been trained, for good or for bad, to expect immediate results.

The only problem is that God doesn’t usually do immediate. He doesn’t usually do fast. He doesn’t do overnight shipping. He works according to his timeline, not mine. And the wonderful reality, is that God is usually doing a thousand things when it looks like he’s doing absolutely nothing.

Holding the Mystery

Lore Ferguson:

I live in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same. Our floorplans are swapped or switched a bit, but generally, we are like a row of Japanese diplomats, all bowing our heads to the Suburban Man.

The names of the roads are Springaire and Winter Park and Summerwind and Autumn Breeze—a nod, perhaps, to what the city planners wish would be instead of what is. People keep warning me about the Long Winter (they say, with capitalized letters) up north. I keep reminding them of their long summer, but neither of us can agree which is better. We always want what we can’t have, right?

Links I like

Remember rather than blame

Kim Shay:

It’s not uncommon for those who grew up in the church, and who have become disenchanted with it, to blame the church they grew up in. I’ve seen it and I’ve heard it from young people around me.

God’s Character and Your Circumstances.

Erik Raymond:

I don’t believe Abraham had an advanced copy of the plan. I don’t think he knew what was going to happen in detail. However, I do believe that he believed that God would fulfill his promise to him to make him a great nation, a father with countless descendants.

This is a perfect example of interpreting his circumstances in light of God’s character and promises. Everything that happens is processed through who God is and what he has said.

Too often we do this in reverse. We interpret God’s character and promises through the lenses of our circumstances.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a few new Kindle deals for you:

Why libraries matter

HT: David Murray

The Happy Rant podcast

A while back, Stephen Altrogge and Barnabas Piper started a series of video conversations in which they cheerfully ranted about things that didn’t matter all that much. Now, by popular demand (if me, Bobby Giles and a few other dudes encouraging it is popular demand), they’ve ditched the Google Hangout videos and moved to podcasting and brought Ted Kluck along for the ride. Enjoy!

When We Get Small And God Gets Big

Jared Wilson:

Natalie comes walking in. “What are you doing in here? Go out there and meet people.”

Excuse me? Who does this lady think she is?

One of my best critics and greatest friends, actually. As I’ve thought over our friendship the last few weeks, it occurs to me that Natalie is the person from the church I talk with the most. Several times a week we exchange emails. We volunteer together at the local food shelf. When I have to meet with a woman alone at the church, Natalie is the one who will come and hang out in the room next door. Natalie is the one who, when she’s at the table, I know things will get done. When she says something is doable, dangit, it’s doable. Natalie went from my shrewdest challenger to my fiercest supporter and encourager.

How to talk when we talk about God

word-balloons

What kind of pronouns should we use when we talk about God?

We typically default to the masculine “He,” but should we?

Is there anything wrong with referring to God as “she”?

While the answer might seem obvious, it is worth considering. After all, as Christians, we want to speak of God in a way that is pleasing to Him. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering how to to talk when we talk about God:

1. God is not a man but is spirit (Numbers 23:19a; John 4:24). Simply, human gender does not apply to God. God is neither male nor female. God is spirit and we are wise to remember this, even as we hold to the necessary tension of things like the eternal sonship of Jesus as the second member of the Trinity.1

2. God uses masculine and feminine terms and attributes when describing Himself. God is likened to a “dread warrior” (Jer. 20:11) and a faithful and long-suffering husband (Hosea—all of it!), a “mighty man” and a “woman in labor” (Isaiah 42:13-14). Wisdom is personified in female form (Proverbs 1:20-21). Jesus even emphasizes the feminine when He laments over Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:27; Luke 13:34) Without being too reductionistic, God is quite comfortable referring to Himself using or inspiring the use of both feminine and masculine characteristics, even if it makes some of us uncomfortable.2

3. God reveals Himself as “our Father.” But regardless of God’s comfort with taking on feminine attributes, how does God reveal Himself? As our Father. When Jesus teaches us to pray, He tell us to pray like this, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Seven times in Matthew and Luke, Jesus calls God our “heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:48; 6:14; 6:26; 6:32; 15:13; 18:35; Luke 11:13), and another 17 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke “our Father in heaven” or “our Father who is in heaven.” This is something that’s continued into the epistles, with God being called “Father” at least nine times by Paul and Peter.

This should tell us something very important: While God is very comfortable attributing feminine characteristics to Himself, when He does so, it is typically in the form of a simile—God’s love and longing for His people is like that of a mother hen’s for her chicks. His anguish over sin is like that of a woman in labor. But when God chooses to reveal Himself, and when He gives us context for our relationship with Him, He does so in the masculine—as Father.

So, how should we talk when we talk about God? We should talk about Him the way God Himself does. Embrace both masculine and feminine characteristics as He does, but pay close attention to how God speaks of Himself. He is our Father, and He wants to be referred to as such. Let’s make sure we honor His wishes.

Is anyone really surprised?

medium_2096532446

This past week, rumors surfaced of Oprah joining the cast of a new faith-focused film—playing the role of God.

The film? The Shack, based on Wm. Paul Young’s dangerously stupid book. If the rumors turn out to be true, this would be perfect casting.

I read the book in the summer of 2008 right around the time it was first attracting serious attention. Tons of people were talking about this book—it was a topic of conversation online, at our church and in my office. Lots of folks were raving about how amazing the book was, and how they felt like they better understood God and the reasons for suffering…

But the god they were connecting with wasn’t the God of the Bible.

It was the god of Oprah.

The god presented in the book is a bizarre combination of new age spirituality and conflicting first century heresies. It’s a god who appears as (a bizarre stereotype of) an African-American woman, a flighty Asian Spirit, and a Middle Eastern man. It a god who has a preference for uncertainty, rather than a God who is confident in His knowledge of all things. A god who speaks to you subjectively, in and through your own thoughts, rather than with clarity in the Bible.

It is a god of our own imagining, and the kind of god, if we’re honest, many of us actually want.

It’s a god who doesn’t offer us any challenges or pushback (not really); a god who has no desire or ability to hold us accountable for our actions. A god who is all about relationship, and not about rules.

A god who wants us to have the life we want, but not the Life we need.

And really, who better to portray such a god than one who is so adept at perpetuating the myth of its existence?

No doubt there will be many who flock to see this film when it eventually sees the light of day. And make no mistake, it will be made. Some professing Christian leaders—the same ones who encouraged reading the book—will no doubt encourage their congregations to see it.

But rather than present a pretty picture of a pretend god, and encourage people to connect with a god who doesn’t exist, how about we give a grander picture of the God who does?


photo credit: Barack Obama via photopin cc

Who are the false teachers?

snake

The whole concept of false teachers and false teaching is one that makes many Christians squirm. We don’t like to think about the idea that there are people who are actively trying to deceive believers, to turn them away from the truth of the Christian faith. But all one has to do is look around at a Christian bookstore and you can see it—deception is present.

So who are they?

Anytime someone writes on this topic, it’s tempting to name names. Tim Challies has been profiling a number of them over the last several weeks, for example, looking at false teachers throughout history and up to our present day. Making the cut are luminaries such as Benny Hinn, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Pelagius, Arius… even the Pope made the cut!

Trying to make a list can be a double-edged sword. One danger is becoming too narrow, letting a secondary issue take precedence and become the measure of orthodoxy (think: egalitarianism vs complementarianism, or Calvinism vs Arminianism). A second is being too open, lacking any firm criteria upon which to make a judgement about orthodoxy whatsoever.

And it’s this error that I want to challenge in particular. When you start to examine the nature of false teaching, it tends to consistently focus on three primary areas:

The nature and character of God (including the person of Christ).

I wrote about this in a bit more detail in Contend, but imagine you’re standing dominoes up in a line to watch them fall. You’ve set up all your pieces just so and you’re ready to push the lead one. If you’ve got that first domino in the right place, when you knock it down, the chain reaction can begin, with every properly situated piece falling in exactly the right way. But if your first domino is pointing in the wrong direction or is placed too far away from the others, it’s just not going to work.

Our understanding of God is kind of like that. If we get God wrong, nothing else will truly fall in place. We won’t understand the gospel and there will be no energy or momentum to drive us forward into a life of fruitful labor to the glory of God. Thankfully, due to the immeasurable gift of the Bible, we have everything we need to get that first “domino” right. Indeed, if we begin to grasp even the most basic truths regarding God’s nature and character, that changes everything.

What this means for us is grasping as comprehensive picture of God as we can from Scripture—we see Him as immanent (He is personal and knowable), transcendent (He is far above us in every meaningful way) and Triune (He is one in essence and three in persons). He is many things—loving, jealous, just, and merciful… but undergirding all of this is his holiness. It is this fact that reminds us that God is perfect and distinct from the world He has made, it calls on us to pay attention to all He is. So we don’t take one aspect of His character at the expense of another—love doesn’t trump justice and vice versa; instead, we see God’s love as holy and His justice as holy. They spring from the same source. They are perfect and wonderful and glorious.

And this is what false teachers consistently attack. They strive to make God smaller, more distant, less intimidating… Honestly, if the thought of standing before God in His glory doesn’t make you want to wet yourself in terror a little bit, you probably don’t understand the God of the Bible.

The gospel.

Ask “what is the gospel” to 100 people, and you’re likely to get 101 answers. But the gospel, in its most basic and essential form, is this: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

There’s much that could be said about this, but notice the key elements: Christ died, and more specifically, He died to pay the penalty for our sins). He was buried, meaning He was truly dead. And He was raised to life again physically—not spiritually, not emotionally, not in our hearts or any such notion.

Without these things, there is no gospel, period. And when someone fudges on any of these, a different gospel is preached, and it’s one that damns its teachers to hell (Gal. 1:9). Yet this is what we consistently see in false teaching—men and women who make the gospel about something other than what Christ has done, and make it about giving us an example to follow, or giving us a Jesus who didn’t physically rise from death… But according to Scripture, such things are nonsense.

The authority of the Bible.

The final consistent point of opposition is the Bible itself. Notice how even with His gospel summary above, Paul consistently pointed back to the Scriptures—meaning, these things that happened to Jesus, God said would happen in His Word. And throughout the Bible, we see this kind of emphasis on the Bible’s authority and trustworthiness. Two examples:

Peter says that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).  And this prophetic word, he says, was not produced “by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Paul, likewise, describes all Scripture as “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

But look throughout and you’ll find this repeated emphasis on the authority of Scripture. And this is what false teachers consistently strive to undermine, even before they’ll go after the nature of God or the gospel. They do it with appeals to experience and emotion as authoritative, and arguments designed to obscure the clarity of the Bible… it all amounts to the same trick the serpent played in the beginning, asking “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)

Thankfully, we have a “more sure” word than one that can be obscured easily. In the Bible, we have something we can rely on and trust. Kevin DeYoung, commenting on 2 Peter 1, says it well:

We do not follow myths. We are not interested in stories with a nice moral to them. We are not helped by hoping in spiritual possibilities which we know to be historically impossible. These things in the gospel story happened. God predicted them. He fulfilled them. He inspired the written record of them. Therefore we ought to believe them. Nothing in all of the Bible was produced solely by the human will. God used men to write the words, but these men did their work carried along by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is an utterly reliable book, an unerring book, a holy book, a divine book.

So who are the false teachers out there? Look at how a teacher views God, the gospel, and the Scriptures. That will likely tell you most everything you need to know.

4 things I liked and 3 I didn’t about the new Noah movie

Russell Crowe as Noah

This weekend, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah made its way into theatres with many a feather ruffled. Much ink has been spilt discussing concerns about the filmmakers’ liberties in bringing the story of God’s wrath against humanity to the big screen.

It’s the kind of movie that, honestly, if it’s you’re temperament, you’re guaranteed to find something to hate about this movie. But frankly, that’s every movie. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t all bad, nor is it all great. Here’s a look at four things I liked and three I didn’t:

What I liked: they nailed the problem of sin.

Seriously. They absolutely got it right—the problem of sin wasn’t—and isn’t—external. It’s inside each one of us. There’s a quite brilliant scene where Crowe’s Noah is describing the problem to his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and she counters his argument, trying to remind him of the virtues of each of their sons. But Noah tell her how even those good qualities—and even their love for their children—can be perverted by sin.

Throughout the movie, you see this over and over again: in this film, there is no denying that humanity is twisted and evil to its core. The destruction of creation, the competing narratives of Noah and Tubal-cain (who treats God’s command to have dominion over creation as permission to abuse it rather than faithfully steward), the possible cannibalism… this is a dark world filled with wicked people. You can’t blame God for wanting to destroy it.

What I didn’t: the empty hope of the film’s second chance.

The big idea in the end is that the Creator is giving Noah and his family a second chance, to let humanity be the way it was intended in its relationship to creation. And yet, given the rest of the film, the note of hope falls flat.

As much as the filmmakers get right in their depiction of sin, they still get a key thing wrong: they still show it as something that can be mastered by human will. And so the hope rings hollow. We can try all we want to master the beast, but eventually it’s going to eat our faces.

What I liked: they gave us a human Noah.

Noah is a bit of an enigma in the Scriptures. Because we don’t know a lot about him, so there’s a lot of whitespace to be filled in. Aronofsky, naturally, has to take a lot of liberty in giving him a personality (to say nothing of giving his wife a name…). He is a man with a clear sense of justice. He takes the call to wisely care for creation seriously. He cares for his family until…

What I didn’t: they gave us a very human Noah.

There’s a lot to like about this Noah, but he’s also one who you struggle to relate to. A religious zealot, a man obsessed with obeying his God and utterly lacking in compassion and mercy in the task. And when he finally exhibits those characteristics, he believes he’s failed the Creator.

But this just isn’t the picture we’re shown in the Scriptures. Instead, we’re shown a man who was declared righteous, who was shown grace by God and spared by God to be a type of Christ—a “second” Adam through whom all the people of the earth would come.

What I liked: the Creator—God—is a central figure in the story.

There are no atheists in this film. No one doubts the existence of the Creator. Truly, I am grateful the filmmakers didn’t go the cheesy and blasphemous route with having Liam Neeson’s voice come out of a cloud, or Morgan Freeman show up wearing a white suit. There are no two ways about it: God is a powerful presence in Noah.

What I didn’t like: the Creator is hard to understand.

And while His is a powerful presence, He’s still not a character. Because the Creator in the film speaks in dreams and visions to Noah, as opposed to clearly speaking, what He wants to communicate can be obscured by the recipients interpretation.1

This is what leads Noah into his compassionless quest, one where he believes that his family is not to repopulate the earth, and what leads him to believe he’s failed in his mission when he shows compassion at a key moment. This is not the kind of Creator we need, and thankfully it’s not the kind of Creator we have.

What I liked: Discussing the movie with Emily afterward was actually more fun that watching it.

Honestly, the movie itself is pretty okay. It’s not a life-changing film, but it’s also not a waste of a movie ticket. But talking about it with Emily afterward was terrific. We spent about an hour chatting about what each of us noticed about the movie, and more importantly, thanking God that He did speak clearly to Noah, and that He continues to speak clearly to us today.

Did you see Noah or are you planning to? What are your thoughts on the film?

When Grace No Longer Amazes

Cross in Winter

The false conflict between the two testaments may be seen in the most brutal act of divine vengeance ever recorded in Scripture. It is not found in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross. If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross. Here is where our astonishment should be focused. If we have cause for moral outrage, let it be directed at Golgotha.

The Cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath.

It was the most just and the most gracious act in history.

God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken on Himself the sins of the world.

Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then He became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin He carried, He became utterly repugnant to the Father. God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us.

This “for us” aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy.

It is too astonishing to fathom.

We cringe at God’s justice because its expression is so unusual… God’s usual course of action is one of grace.

Grace no longer amazes us.

We have grown used to it; we take it for granted.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, pp. 121-122 (line breaks & emphasis added)

Pragmatism Destroys the Possibility of Progress

…it is unreasonable, the pragmatist theologian says, to reject the physics and chemistry of the first century or the seventeenth century and yet maintain unchanged the theology of those past ages; why should theology be exempt from the universal law of progress?

But . . . far from advocating progress in theology, the current pragmatism really destroys very possibility of progress. For progress involves something to progress to as well as something to progress from. And in the intellectual sphere the current pragmatism can find no goal of progress in an objective norm of truth; one doctrine, according to the pragmatist view, may be just as good as an exactly contradictory doctrine, provided it suits a particular generation or a particular group of persons. The changes in scientific hypotheses represent true progress because they are increasingly close approximations to an objectively and externally existent body of facts; while the changes advocated by pragmatist theologians are not progress at all but the meaningless changes of a kaleidoscope…

At this point, then, we find the really important divergence of opinion in the religious world at the present day; the difference of attitude toward theology or toward doctrine goes far deeper than any mere divergence in detail. The modern depreciation of theology results logically in the most complete skepticism. it is not merely that the ancient creeds, and the Bible upon which they are based, are criticized—indeed we ourselves certainly think that they ought constantly to be criticized in order that it may be seen that they will stand the test—but hte really serious trouble is that the modern pragmatist, on account of the very nature of his philosophy, has nothing to put in there place. Theology, according to him, may be useful; but it can never by any possibility be true. As Dr. Fosdick observes, the liberalism of today must necessarily produce an intellectual formulation which will become the orthodoxy of tomorrow, and which will then in turn have to give place to a new liberalism; and so on (we suppose) ad infinitum.

This is what the plain man in the Church has difficulty in understanding; he does not yet appreciate the real gravity of the issue. He does not see that it makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds of the Church the Modernist preacher affirms, or how much or how little of the Biblical teaching from which the creeds are derived. He might affirm every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession, for example, and yet be separated by a great gulf from the Reformed Faith. it is not that part is denied and the rest affirmed; but all is denied because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true.

J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, pp. 31-32, 34

Douglas Moo, the Updated NIV and Jesus' Sense of Humor

Last September it was announced that the rather poorly received TNIV translation would be discontinued and that work would begin on an update of the widely regarded NIV translation for release in 2011. As of November 1, 2010, the updated NIV text has been made available online at BibleGateway.com.

Dr. Douglas Moo, the head of the translation committee for the New International Version, introduces the updated translation in the following video:

The press release follows:

The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) is the body of scholars with responsibility for overseeing the text of the New International Version of the Bible.

The Committee was established in 1965, and we continue to meet every year, under the terms of the NIV charter, to monitor developments in biblical scholarship and English usage and to reflect these developments in periodic updates to the text.

The Committee is made up of leading evangelical Bible scholars drawn from various denominations and from some of the finest academic institutions in the world. We are passionate in our pursuit of the NIV’s core philosophy – the desire to mirror, as closely as possible, the reading experience of the original Bible audience. When the books of the Bible were first written, they let people hear exactly what God wanted to say in language that was natural and easy for them to understand. Standing with our predecessors in the work of translating the NIV, this is the experience we strive to reproduce for the Bible readers of our time.

Over at his blog, Darryl Dash had the opportunity to interview Dr. Moo about the updated NIV. Here’s an excerpt:

What are some challenges to being on a Bible Translation committee of which those who have never done it would not be aware?

First, I should say that I consider it to be a tremendous privilege to be on the CBT: my work on the committee is the ministry that I have most enjoyed in the course of my life. Imagine sitting around a table with 14 other scholars talking about the Bible and what it means and how to say it! There are, of course challenges. We don’t always agree and, because we are all passionate about our work and the text, our disagreements can be strong. But in the midst of these debates, there is at base a sense of unity around our common passion and common task.

I’ve been checking out the update and for the most part, it’s very close to the 1984 edition; sadly, they kept one of the TNIV translation decisions that winds up masking Jesus’ sense of humor in Matt 4:19:

ESV: And he said to them [Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen], “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

NIV 2010: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

It’s a minor thing (bordering on irrelevant), but it’s kind of fun to see Jesus make a pun. :)

That said, I hope that the update will be a blessing to all its readers.

Questions:

What translation are you using?

If you’re an NIV reader, will you be getting a copy of the updated text?

The Highest, Best, Final, Decisive Good…

…is God:

The gospel of Jesus Christ reveals what that splendor is. Paul calls it the “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Two verses later he calls it “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

When I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment. The saving love of God is God’s commitment to do everything necessary to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying, namely himself. Since we are sinners and have no right and no desire to be enthralled with God, therefore God’s love enacted a plan of redemption to provide that right and that desire. The supreme demonstration of God’s love was the sending of his Son to die for our sins and to rise again so that sinners might have the right to approach God and might have the pleasure of his presence forever.

In order for the Christian gospel to be good news it must provide an all-satisfying and eternal gift that undeserving sinners can receive and enjoy. For that to be true, the gift must be three things. First, the gift must be purchased by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our sins must be covered, and the wrath of God against us must be removed, and Christ’s righteousness must be imputed to us. Second, the gift must be free and not earned. There would be no good news if we had to merit the gift of the gospel. Third, the gift must be God himself, above all his other gifts.

It would be a misunderstanding of this book if it were seen as minimizing the battles being fought for a biblical understanding of the ways and means God has used in the accomplishment and application of redemption. The fact that this book is focusing on the infinite value of the ultimate goal of the gospel should increase, rather than decrease, our commitment not to compromise the great gospel means God used to get us there.

The gospel is the good news of our final and full enjoyment of the glory of God in the face of Christ. That this enjoyment had to be purchased for sinners at the cost of Christ’s life makes his glory shine all the more brightly. And that this enjoyment is a free and unmerited gift makes it shine more brightly still. But the price Jesus paid for the gift and the unmerited freedom of the gift are not the gift. The gift is Christ himself as the glorious image of God—seen and savored with everlasting joy.

John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, pp. 13-14

A God-Sized Gospel

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

In this passage of Ephesians, Paul shows his readers a picture of the triune God initiating and accomplishing the reconciliation and redemption of His people all for the praise of His infinite glory. It’s one of the most beautiful passages of the entire Bible.

And in the Greek text, it’s one, long, elegant sentence.

It’s the run-on sentence to end all run-on sentences—one that some commentators call a monster!

So what would cause Paul to create a “monster” sentence like this, detailing the story of redemption on such an epic scale? Why would he, in the middle of writing a letter, break out into what almost seems to be a spontaneous fit of praise?

It’s that he has a God-sized gospel. I really appreciated reading Fred Sanders’ insights into this passage in The Deep Things of God. Take a look and ask yourself: Is my gospel too small?

On the basis of Ephesians 1:3-14, nobody can accuse Paul of having a gospel that is too small. There is an abundance here bordering on excessiveness. And Paul’s sentence has that character precisely because, as Scripture breathed out by God, it faithfully corresponds to the character of the reality it points to: a gospel of salvation tha tis the work of the untamable holy Trinity. Like all Scripture, this passage is the word fo God and has within itself the life, activity, and incisiveness we would expect in an almighty speech-act through which God does his work (Heb. 4:12). It is an effective word, and one of its effects here is to snatch its listeners out of their own lives and drop them into Christ. It immediately takes the reader to the heavenlies, to the world of the Spirit, and from that vantage point invites us to join in blessing God for the blessing he blessed us with…

All of us think from our own point of view, starting from a center in ourselves and how things look to us. This is unavoidable, since everyone has to start from where they are. . . . The only way to escape this tendency is to be drawn out of ourselves into the bewilderingly large and complex gospel of God. . . . What we need is the miracle of being able to see our own situation from an infinitely higher point of view. We need to start our thinking from a center in God, not in ourselves. . . . Paul invites us to an ecstatic gospel: the good news of standing outside (ek-stasis) of ourselves. (pp. 101-102)

Book Review: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders

For many Christians today, the Trinity is a doctrine to which we give almost no thought. While we certainly affirm it as being true, we don’t really know how it makes a difference in our lives.

So it gets easier for us to start thinking that maybe it doesn’t matter. The seeming paradox of God being one, yet three is a huge stumbling block to many people looking at the Christian faith… and maybe it wouldn’t change anything if we just let it go.

Fred Sanders, associate professor of theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute, disagrees.

“Deep down it is evangelical Christians who most clearly witness to the fact that the personal salvation we experience is reconciliation with God the Father, carried out through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit,” he writes (p. 9).

But we’ve lost something as a movement; we’ve settled for a theological and spiritual shallowness, especially in regards to the Trinity. “Our beliefs and practices all presuppose the Trinity, but that presupposition has for too long been left unexpressed . . . and taken for granted rather than celebrated and taught” (p. 11).

That’s why he wrote The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. In this book, Sanders hopes to reawaken an understanding of, and desire to celebrate, the deeply Trinitarian nature of Christianity.

Because the Trinity is so overwhelming in it’s otherness, it’s tempting for us to avoid even attempting to speak to it. But as Sanders writes, “We . . . should not let ourselves be trapped into thinking that everything depends on our ability to articulate the mystery of the triune God” (p. 36).

The reality is we are tacitly (implicitly) Trinitarian in innumerable ways. The Trinity serves as the encompassing framework for our thinking and confession. “It is the deep grammar of all the central Christian affirmations” (p. 48).

This implicit knowledge leads to explicit expression in salvation, spirituality, church life, prayer and Bible study. These are the realms to which Sanders focuses the majority of the book. [Read more...]