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…]

Sermon Audio: Do You Trust Me?

On October 3, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach the above message from Genesis 18:1-15 at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario.

My original notes follow:

In March of 2009, I was rushing to the hospital, chasing an ambulance that was carrying my wife. She’d lost a lot of blood due to complications related to a miscarriage. So I’m driving and I’m kind of freaking out and praying, “God, please let my wife be okay.”

So I got to the hospital and I wasn’t allowed to see my wife for about 20 minutes. They were trying to stabilize her, I learned later. But those 20 minutes may as well have been an eternity. For a while a number of things were running through my head—Am I going to go home as a single dad? How would I explain something like that to a two-year-old? Will work give me the time off that I need to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of?

And as I prayed and pleaded with God, I had got this distinct impression that God was asking me a question, “Do you trust me?”

That’s the big question, isn’t it? [Read more…]

Don't Be Who You're Not

As I’ve been continuing to develop as a preacher (albeit slowly), one of the great temptations I’ve come across has been imitating other men. I mean, seeing these guys who are extraordinarily gifted by God to preach His Word—guys like my  pastor, Norm Millar, and guys like Driscoll, Chandler, Francis Chan, Piper, MacArthur, Platt—and it’s really tempting to want to be like them.

To say things the way they would say it. To act the way they would act.

But isn’t that dishonoring to God?

The other day, I came across this video where Matt Chandler reminds us of the danger of trying to be who you’re not:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:5)

Fulfill the ministry God has intended for you, not for someone else. Don’t be who you’re not.

HT: Zwinglit

He Loved Us Because He Loved Us

At the moment, I’m reading Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. It’s a very impressive piece of work and as I’ve been reading, I came across this quote from Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley:

Let me beseech you to join with me in adoring the infinite and incomprehensible love of God. . . . He is the great God, “The God of the spirits of all flesh,” “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,” and created not angels and men because he wanted them, for he is being itself, and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us, he would have mercy because he would have mercy, he would show compassion because he would show compassion.

Susanna Wesley, as quoted in The Deep Things of God, p. 67

It’s easy to wonder if there’s much value in a doctrine like the Trinity—it seems so abstract and we’re not always sure if it has practical value. But the Trinity is at the heart of the gospel and the heart of creation.

God didn’t create us because He didn’t need us. He wasn’t lonely or bored. And God didn’t save us because He needed to save us.

He doesn’t love us because he needs to love us. Instead, “He loved us because he loved us.”

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19).

The terrifying, awesome, amazing grace of God. And it only makes sense if God is Trinity.

Book Review: Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright

Title: Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East
Author: Bryant Wright
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

It’s rare that a day goes by when there isn’t a new story in the media about the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Despite attempts to forge a lasting peace, there is none to be found. Temporary cease-fires give way to full-scale conflict. Suicide bombers wreak havoc throughout the region. Iran’s president has stated his desire to wipe Israel off the map. It seems like no matter what action is taken, no matter who is involved in peace talks, it just keeps going.

Buy why? Why is there such turmoil in this region—and why is Israel at the center of it?

The root of the problem, says author Bryant Wright in Seeds of Turmoil, lies in the sinful actions of one man: Abraham.

In part one of Seeds of Turmoil (which is the bulk of the text), Wright walks readers through the biblical account of the birth of Abraham’s children, Isaac and Ishmael, and of the rivalry between his grandchildren, Jacob and Esau, explaining how the prophecies made about each are still coming to bear in our present age.

These chapters read very much like sermon or lecture transcripts. There is a great deal of repetition that in a series of messages would feel quite natural (reminding & reinforcing what was learned the week prior); however, in print form it falls a bit flat as a reader moves from one chapter to the next in relatively quick succession.

Even still, I can understand why Wright felt the need to cover the same ground in multiple chapters—it’s important to stress that the conflict that exists today is, in a very real sense, a conflict between two “brothers.”

Had Sarah, in an act of unbelief, not told Abraham to sleep with Hagar (which he did without complaint), Ishmael would never have been born and God would never have said of him that he would be “a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12)—a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the modern Arab nations of the Middle East. Similarly, had Jacob not stolen the blessing of Esau, there would not be the strife that exists between Israel and Edom (modern-day Jordan).

These chapters also do a solid job of stressing the seriousness of sin. Abraham committed (consensual) adultery. Jacob committed identity theft. And the consequences are felt to this very day. [Read more…]

The Bold and Indignant Christ: Charles Haddon Spurgeon

photo: iStock

Brethren, the Savior’s character has all goodness in all perfection; he is full of grace and truth. Some men, nowadays, talk of him as if he were simply incarnate benevolence. It is not so. No lip ever spoke with such thundering indignation against sin as the lips of the Messiah.

“He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. His fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor.” While in tenderness he prays for his tempted disciple, that his faith may not fail, yet with awful sternness he winnows the heap, and drives away the chaff into unquenchable fire.

We speak of Christ as being meek and lowly in spirit, and so he was. A bruised reed he did not break, and the smoking flax he did not quench; but his meekness was balanced by his courage, and by the boldness with which he denounced hypocrisy. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; ye fools and blind, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

These are not the words of the milksop some authors represent Christ to have been.

He is a man—a thorough man—throughout—a God-like man—gentle as a woman, but yet stern as a warrior in the midst of the day of battle. The character is balanced; as much of one virtue as of another. As in Deity every attribute is full orbed; justice never eclipses mercy, nor mercy justice, nor justice faithfulness; so in the character of Christ you have all the excellent things.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sweet Saviour” (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 99 [paragraph breaks mine])

If We're Not Worth Saving…

…then why does God save anyone?

That’s been the question my review of Max Lucado’s latest book has been raising over at Amazon.

One commenter wrote,

I disagree with the view that “There isn’t anything in us particularly worth saving.” There is something in us worth saving. That is why he saves us. He sees his image. That is what he saw in Peter. That is what he saw in the adulterous woman. That is what he saw in John and the thief on the cross. We need Jesus because we have destroyed that image. He loves us greatly. He does see something in us.

And another

How sad for you that you don’t believe Jesus sees anything in you worth saving. If we are so completely worthless, why does He bother? For kicks? Just to show off His power? Of course not. He does it because He loves us and because we are ALL worth saving.

These two commenters—like all who would hold to that position—are obviously very sincere in their belief that Jesus saves because we’re worth it somehow. Maybe God sees Himself in us, so He feels He has to intervene, or we’ve got something good in us…

Now here’s the thing. I appreciate the sincerity of their belief; I also get why it irks them so much—it’s an incredibly offensive thing to say that none of us are worth saving in God’s eyes.

However, as sincerely held as this belief might be, it’s also sincerely wrong.

Nowhere in the entirety of Scripture are we told that God saves us because we’re worth saving. We’re actually told the opposite. [Read more…]

The Stern and Holy Christ: R. C. H. Lenski

photo: iStock

The stern and holy Christ, the indignant, mighty Messiah, the Messenger of the Covenant of whom it is written: “He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness,” is not agreeable to those who want only a soft and sweet Christ. [What we see instead is] the fiery zeal of Jesus which came with such sudden and tremendous effectiveness that before this unknown man, who had no further authority than his own person and word, this crowd of traders and changers, who thought they were fully within their right when conducting their business in the Temple court, fled pellmell like a lot of naughty boys.

R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p. 207 (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 23)

A Precise God

I’ve been chewing on a great quote from Charles Spurgeon since reading it (of all places) on Twitter:

A Puritan was told that he was too precise; but he replied, “I serve a precise God.”

What’s specifically been sticking with me is that response: “I serve a precise God.”

How often do we consider the preciseness of God? Earlier on Thursday, maybe two hours before reading the quote from Spurgeon, I noticed a few Facebook friends “liking” a silly page called “God created men first, cause you always make a rough draft before a masterpiece!” (Yes, I get the joke.)

Thursday morning, I was reading Galatians chapter two, wherein Paul is explaining how after fourteen years of preaching the gospel, he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation that had come to him. In verse two, Paul explains that, “I went up . . . and set before them [the Apostles] . . .  the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

What struck me as I read this was Paul’s concern for precision of his gospel. He set before the Apostles “the gospel that [he proclaims] in order to make sure that [he] was not running or had not run in vain.”

Paul was desperate to make sure that the gospel he proclaimed—that Jesus Christ had lived a sinless life on our behalf, died on the cross and bore the punishment for our sins, rose again bodily from the grave on the third day and was now seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven; that salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone—he was desperate to make sure that this was, in fact, the gospel! [Read more…]

The Bible’s Not About You…

 

…so who’s it about?

This excerpt from a message by Tim Keller (quoting from Sinclair Ferguson’s Preaching Christ in the Old Testament) was a great reminder for me as a writer, and occasional preacher:

If Jesus isn’t at the heart of the message, it’s nothing worth saying.

HT: Jared Wilson

Where and How Piper Learned to Preach

Preaching is incredibly difficult; it’s something far different than simply speaking or communicating… and learning how to do it has been challenging.

Seasoned preachers, including John Piper, understand. In the following video, Piper shares where and how he learned not only to preach, but how he developed a passion for communicating God’s Word:

The edited transcript follows:

Where and how did you learn to preach?

I don’t know. Watching my dad when I was six, eight, ten, twelve. Watching how not to do it in lots of places. Being unable to speak in front of a group from grade five to my sophomore year in college. I think I was learning to preach during that time because I was so hurt, so wounded, so discouraged, and so desperate that I had to go way down into God, and way into Scripture, and way into pain, and God was making a preacher by shutting my mouth.

You don’t become an effective preacher by becoming a loquacious and effective communicator at age sixteen. You become a clever communicator, but you don’t become a preacher of the holy things of God. So that was a piece.

I don’t know. The courses that I took on preaching were marginally helpful. I got the lowest grade in seminary in my preaching class. I think I got a C minus in James Daane’s preaching class at Fuller Seminary. We never agreed on anything except the principle that every sermon should have one point, he said that over and over again. So I made a terrible grade there. But there were other teachers that…

I think the way that I became a preacher was by being passionately thrilled by what I was seeing in the Bible in seminary. Passionately thrilled! When Philippians began to open to me, Galatians open to me, Romans open to me, the Sermon on the Mount open to me in classes on exegesis (not homiletics, but exegesis), everything in me was feeling, “I want to say this to somebody. I want to find a way to say this because this is awesome, this is incredible!”

So for preachers today that go everywhere but the Bible to find something interesting or something scintillating and passionate, I say, “I don’t get it. I don’t get that at all!” Because I have to work hard to leave the Bible to go somewhere to find an illustration, because everything in the Bible is just blowing me away. And it is that sense of being blown away by what’s here—by the God that’s here, and the Christ that’s here, and the gospel that’s here, and the Spirit that’s here, and the life that is here—being blown away by this, I just say, “That’s got to get out.”

And then I suppose how it gets out. What is that? I don’t know what that is. That’s just the way I’m wired that I would say it a certain a way. It’s owing in part to me being a lit major, you know, I studied language a little bit. Goodness, a thousand things go into your life and nobody can copy anybody else. I don’t know. God makes us who we are. I don’t think there is much you can do to become a preacher except know your Bible and be unbelievably excited about what’s there. And love people a lot, that is, you want to make the connection with people and what’s in the Bible.

By John Piper. © Desiring God.

Around the Interweb (08/22)

Christianity Today Interviews Anne Rice

Christianity today interviewed Anne Rice on following Christ without Christianity (there was a whole hubbub about it on the interwebs a few weeks back). A great quote from the interview:

Are there any other religious authors you read?

I read theology and biblical scholarship all the time. I love the biblical scholarship of D.A. Carson. I very much love Craig S. Keener. His books on Matthew and John are right here on my desk all the time. I go to Craig Keener for answers because his commentary on Scripture is so thorough. I still read N.T. Wright. I love the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. I love his writing on Jesus Christ. It’s very beautiful to me, and I study a little bit of it every day. Of course, I love Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

You mentioned D.A. Carson, Craig Keener, and N.T. Wright. They are fairly conservative Protestants.

Sometimes the most conservative people are the most biblically and scholastically sound. They have studied Scripture and have studied skeptical scholarship. They make brilliant arguments for the way something in the Bible reads and how it’s been interpreted. I don’t go to them necessarily to know more about their personal beliefs. It’s the brilliance they bring to bear on the text that appeals to me. Of all the people I’ve read over the years, it’s their work that I keep on my desk. They’re all non-Catholics, but they’re believers, they document their books well, they write well, they’re scrupulously honest as scholars, and they don’t have a bias. Many of the skeptical non-believer biblical scholars have a terrible bias. To them, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, so there’s no point in discussing it. I want someone to approach the text and tell me what it says, how the language worked.

Read the rest of the interview here. (HT: Trevin Wax)

In Other News

Giving Back: August 21st was my 31st birthday; help me celebrate by donating $31 so 31 families can have clean water to drink.

The following video explains what charity: water is doing in the Central African Republic:

Tributes: Justin Taylor offers this thoughtful tribute to Clark Pinnock, who died on August 15th, 2010, at the age of 73.

Christian Culture: My co-worker Amber opens a can on sketchy applications of Jeremiah 29:11. (For a double shot of Jer. 29:11 commentary, here’s a post I wrote on it a while back.)

Housekeeping: This past week I enjoyed a great week off on Lake Nipissing. Many thanks to Nate Bingham and Will Adair for helping me out with some great content.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

The Gospel is Unbelievable by Nathan W. Bingham

Will Adair looks at the Lord’s Prayer and the part of the gospel he struggles with.

D. A. Carson offers insights into how we can know God exists and how He can be loving yet send people to hell.

Mark Driscoll describes the average evangelical… pagan.