Dr. D.A. Carson provides a thoughtful, pastoral and biblical answer to this important question with which so many struggle:
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Today’s guest blogger is Nathan W. Bingham. Nathan is a Christian, husband, dad, and self-described geek living in Melbourne, Australia as well as a part-time blogger, social media experimenter, and theological student. You can find Nathan on Twitter here, Facebook here and read his blog here.
The objective and historical news that Jesus Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose again to secure salvation for sinful men and women, is shockingly and totally unbelievable.
Not unbelievable in that it cannot be believed — for God in His grace gives us the gift of faith to be able to believe — but unbelievable in that it is so amazing and so simple in its essence, that the why is hard to answer and the how so easy to confuse.
Why would God save wretched sinners?
No other reason than for His glory alone can begin to answer the question of why a holy God would set His love upon and determine to save wretched, rebellious, sinful creatures, like you and me.
God is self-sufficient. He doesnʼt need you and me. He has never been lonely. Nothing compelled Him to save us…yet He did.
Read the graphic description of your state in Ephesians 2:1-3, and then allow yourself to be reminded afresh of the shockingly and totally unbelievable words in verse 4, “But God…”.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God… – Ephesians 2:1-4a
You mean I donʼt have to pay for this gift?
The most generous and undeserved gift ever given was just that; a gift! You cannot pay for it. You cannot earn it. You are unworthy and always will be; yet you can have it eternally.
Jesus didnʼt call sinners to earn salvation. Jesus simply preached, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Paul, only several verses after the incredible “But God…” passage in Ephesians reminds us that you have been saved “by grace…through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
Despite the simplicity of the gospel — a free gift for undeserving sinners — we can so easily confuse it and set our affection upon something other than Christ alone. Sanctification doesnʼt justify a sinner before God. Church attendance doesnʼt justify a sinner before God. Actively sharing your faith with others doesnʼt justify a sinner before God. All good things in and of themselves, but theyʼre not to be confused with justification. It is only the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ that leaves a person declared righteous before God.
John Calvin is noted for describing the human heart as “a perpetual factory of idols”. This idol factory can so easily lead you away from Christ alone toward a theology of Christ ʻplusʼ. Remember, when it comes to the gospel Christ plus anything equals nothing.
A holy God freely reconciling sinners to Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Unbelievable? Shockingly and totally so, but believe it any way…Christ commands you to!
D. A. Carson offers a wonderful answer in the video below:
Today’s guest blogger is Will Adair. Will describes himself as a pastor in transition, learning what it means to be content in Christ. He regularly blogs at Sojourns with Jesus and can be found on Twitter here.
My name is Will Adair and you are reading this because Aaron is on vacation and has graciously opened his blog to me. I wanted to write something universally applicable instead of rambling on about some fun but obscure doctrine like modalism or why the Avett Brothers are a band you should have continually on your play track next to Derek Webb (go Google them). Instead, I am writing on the Lord’s prayer. Let me be clear and candid. I have struggled with every line in this prayer.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
The concept of God as Father once seemed ludicrous. If God was up there he certainly could not also be my father down here. God is remarkably patient as a Father. When I finally embraced him, with little decorum he ran to me when I wandered home as the prodigal younger son. He gently rebuked me when I was the unloving elder son. I joyfully embrace his Fatherhood because as a father I need him to model to me how to love my kids.
“Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Most of us have little problem with God as Savior but God as a real Lord tends to be problematic. No one has a problem with a Sovereign that is merely a figurehead like say Queen Elizabeth. The Father though unlike the Queen of England desires and has the authority to be involved in every aspect of his subjects lives. God as a King offends our modern & post-modern pride. Where there are kings there are servants. None of us likes the idea of servitude. Oscar Wilde lived his life as an atheist in his attempt to flee God and be his own lord. This though is the great illusion of our world. Wilde in De Profundis summarizes well the human condition. “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” All humans either knowingly or unknowingly are as Wilde said “other people.” All of us already follow either a life given over to God or one given over to sin. Even our sin is not truly our own, it is at best someone else’s remixed. Continue Reading…
As Gideon’s fleece was full of dew so that he could wring out the moisture, so will a text sometimes be when the Holy Spirit deigns to visit His servants through its words. This utterance of our Saviour to His disciples has been as a wafer made with honey to our taste, and we doubt not it may prove equally as sweet to others.
Observe carefully, dear friends, what the eulogium is which is here passed upon the Lord’s beloved disciples: “Ye are clean.” This is the primeval blessing, so soon lost by our first parents. This is the virtue, the loss of which shut man out of Paradise, and continues to shut men out of heaven. The want of cleanness in heart and hands condemns sinners to banishment from God, and defiles all their offerings. To be clean before God is the desire of every penitent, and the highest aspiration of the most advanced believer. It is what all the ceremonies and ablutions of the law can never bestow and what Pharisees with all their pretensions cannot attain. To be clean is to be as the angels are, as glorified saints are, yea, as the Father Himself is.
Acceptance with the Lord, safety, happiness, and every blessing, always go with cleanness of heart, and he that hath it cannot miss of heaven.
It seems too high a condition to be ascribed to mortals, yet, by the lips of Him who could not err, the disciples were said, without a qualifying word, or adverb of degree, to be “clean”; that is to say, they were perfectly justified in the sight of eternal equity, and were regarded as free from every impurity.
Dear friends, is this blessing yours? Have you ever believed unto righteousness? Have you taken the Lord Jesus to be your complete cleansing, your sanctification, your redemption? Has the Holy Spirit ever sealed in your peaceful spirit the gracious testimony, “ye are clean”?
The assurance is not confined to the apostles, for ye also are “complete in Him,” “perfect in Christ Jesus,” if ye have indeed by faith received the righteousness of God. The psalmist said, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow;” if you have been washed, you are even to that highest and purest degree clean before the Lord, and clean now. Oh, that all believers would live up to their condition and privilege; but alas! too many are pining as if they were still miserable sinners, and forgetting that they are in Christ Jesus forgiven sinners, and therefore ought to be happy in the Lord. Remember, beloved believer, that, as one with Christ, you are not with sinners in the gall of bitterness, but with the saints in the land which floweth with milk and honey.
Your cleanness is not a thing of degrees, it is not a variable or vanishing quantity, it is present, abiding, perfect, you are clean through the Word, through the application of the blood of sprinkling to the conscience, and through the imputation of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then lift up your head, and sing for joy of heart, seeing that your transgression is pardoned, your sin is covered, and in you Jehovah seeth not iniquity. Dear friends, let not another moment pass till by faith in Jesus you have grasped this privilege. Be not content to believe that the priceless boon may be had, but lay hold upon it for yourself…
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Word from the Beloved’s Own Mouth (Published in Till He Come)
Wednesday morning at six, my father-in-law is going to have heart surgery. Emily’s been surprisingly okay with everything (as she’s been fond of saying, she gets anxious about the little things, but the big ones don’t faze her too much), and her Dad is pretty confident that everything will be fine. But Emily’s mom… you can hear the stress in her voice whenever she calls.
It’s been a tough few weeks for her, and honestly we’ve not been sure how to be of comfort beyond telling her that we’re praying for her.
Being (as far as we know) the only Christians in our family, this has been a big struggle for us—the things we take comfort in, the only things that bring true comfort (Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection and the hope of His final return and our future glorification with Him)—these things aren’t terribly comforting to people who don’t trust in Christ or believe that God is good. (And Emily’s shared this with her mom, which was one of the most loving acts I’ve ever seen her take.)
While I’m sure that the operation is going to be fine (sadly it’s become somewhat a standard procedure), I can’t help but wonder…
What if it doesn’t?
I know that, ultimately, if the surgery goes well, it’s by the will of God.
And I know that if it doesn’t, it’s also by His will.
God’s absolute sovereignty is one of the most comforting truths that He has revealed to us. The Psalmists revelled in it. Paul extolled it.
Jesus—well, Jesus is the Sovereign One, so, obviously…
But this doesn’t bring much comfort to those who are opposed to Him.
What I’ve been praying regularly is that God would use this situation to draw Emily’s family to Himself. That He would be revealed and they would respond in faith.
And maybe that’s enough.
Would you join us in praying for this to happen?
We received an update on my father-in-law’s surgery this afternoon. When the doctors began to operate they discovered they had to do a quintuple bypass, rather than the triple they originally thought.
After five hours of surgery, he has been moved to the recovery ward, but they’re waiting for his blood pressure to drop before they can wake him up. Apparently it’s a lot harder to get the blood pressure of “younger” men under control after a procedure like this which is why he is remaining out for the time being.
Thank you for your prayers today. They’ve meant a lot to us!
Amidst us our Belov’d stands,
And bids us view His pierc’d hands;
Points to His wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the Crucified.
What food luxurious loads the board,
When at His table sits the Lord!
The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,
When Jesus deigns the guests to meet!
If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs but see not Him,
Oh, may His love the scales displace,
And bid us see Him face to face!
Our former transports we recount,
When with Him in the holy mount,
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marr’d but lovely face to view.
Thou glorious Bridegroom of our hearts,
Thy present smile a heaven imparts:
Oh, lift the veil, if veil there be,
Let every saint Thy beauties see!
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Communion Hymn (Published in Till He Come)
I read a silly amount of books every week/month/year, and I’ve realized something:
The ones I enjoy the most are the ones with discussion questions.
Recently my men’s small group has been working our way through The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard (it’s a great book, by the way), and one of the most helpful things about it—even more than the content itself—is the discussion questions and application activities.
It’s really easy to read a book (or scan it in some cases) and say, “Yep, I’ve got it. Next!” Especially for me.
I read very quickly, I retain a lot… but if I don’t dwell on the content, it just sits in my head and doesn’t affect my life.
I find that I have to make the time for application. Discussion questions force me to do that, to dwell on the content and chew on its implications.
Now, there are some things that don’t require discussion guides, obviously. If you’re reading Amish Vampire Romance End-Times books, for example—okay, that might require some discussion (but not of the book itself).
I also appreciate how Francis Chan periodically writes, “Okay, stop reading this book, go watch this video here, read this passage of Scripture and look at what it says about XYZ.” That’s smart; it pushes the reader to interact with the text and not just let it wash over him or her.
So what do you do with a book that doesn’t have any questions?
Ask your own!
As a general rule, I have a few questions for every book I read:
- What is the main idea the author is trying to convey?
- How does the author support his/her idea(s)? Scripture, tradition, history, illustrations from real life examples…
- Do I agree with the author’s main idea? Why or why not? And can I support my position with appropriate Scripture? (Questions two and three are essential for anything labeled “Christian Living,” “Spiritual Growth,” or “Theology,” I’ve found.)
- If these ideas are true, what is one practical way I can apply this truth today?
A great book is one that doesn’t just challenge the way you think, but challenges you to think.
Ask questions. Enjoy discussion.
And think about what you’re reading.
Something I’ve been praying for, fairly consistently, is the opportunity to share our faith with our family. A while back, we used to hope for kind of an “afterschool special” moment; that one day, Emily’s parents or my parents would sit us down and say, “Gee, you’re really different. Why is that?” And then we could share our story, present the gospel and see them get saved. That day.
Too lofty a goal? Maybe.
Anyway, as I’ve been praying, occasionally little opportunities to put something out there pop up. Sometimes I end up taking them, but… a lot of the time, I hesitate or I misread the situation.
Sunday afternoon, for example, I realized in hindsight that there was a prime opportunity and I dropped the ball. My mother-in-law asked me how my preaching went last weekend, which gave me an opening that—I didn’t take.
But I should have, I realized as we were driving home.
I talked a bit about how it went, but didn’t get into the content of the message too much. While she might not have been all that interested (and even though I’ve sent a link to the audio), I totally blew that opportunity.
What I’m realizing in this is that I’m kind of evangelistically challenged, at least when it comes to family.
I think there’s still a part of me that wants to think that pure “relational evangelism”—that somehow, people are going to ask, “Gee, Aaron, I’ve noticed you don’t drink; could you tell me how to get saved?”—that that’s actually going to work.
But I’m sure, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that it just doesn’t.
Paul writes in Romans 10:14-17:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Getting over being evangelistically challenged means being willing to speak up, even at the risk of offending someone with the truth.
I guess the question for me is, am I willing to get over myself to do it?
[M]an never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.
For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced.
[S]ince we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure… So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods.
But should we . . . begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is . . . what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.
Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God.
When we see those who previously stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death takes hold of them . . . [we see that] men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. Frequent examples of this consternation occur both in the Book of Judges and the Prophetical Writings; so much so, that it was a common expression among the people of God, “We shall die, for we have seen the Lord.”
Hence the Book of Job, also, in humbling men under a conviction of their folly, feebleness, and pollution, always derives its chief argument from descriptions of the Divine wisdom, virtue, and purity. Nor without cause: for we see Abraham the readier to acknowledge himself but dust and ashes the nearer he approaches to behold the glory of the Lord, and Elijah unable to wait with unveiled face for His approach; so dreadful is the sight…
[T]he knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, [but we must] treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter.
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.2-3