Results tagged “Redemption” from Reformation21 Blog

Ascension Matters

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Evangelical Christians often spend time considering all the benefits won for us on the cross and in the resurrection but spend little time pondering how the ascension further secures and confirms these salvific benefits. We typically give little thought to the question: How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us? (Heidelberg Catechism Q.49). In this post*, we hope to consider this very issue in order to better understand how central the ascension to salvation.

The general failure to understand the importance of the ascension for the life of the believer leads to a truncated view of soteriology and the application of soteriology. While there is always the looming danger that we existentialize the objective truths of Christianity, making them mere subjective realities, there is the opposite danger that we as believers fail to recognize that these objective realities that happened to Christ in history have occurred for the benefit of those who are in union with Christ. As believers, we cannot contemplate what God has done 'in the fullness of time' without our hearts being warmed. We recognize that Good has brought the benefits of this once-for-all work unto us in order to nullify all human effort, boasting, and self-glorification. Similarly, we cannot contemplate what has been done for us in the application of salvation, without immediately considering that God has accomplished the benefits in the once-for-all of the work of Christ at the center of history.

The Ascension as an Event in the History of Salvation

At the core of salvation history is the work of the Triune God in the death-resurrection-ascension[of Christ]-and Pentecost. This event complex is divided into the two states of Christ: (1) his humiliation and (2) his exaltation. While it is certainly true that Christ cried out on the cross "It is finished", referring to his self-offering as the sacrifice to pay for sin, Christ's role in redemption continues. Just as Paul might say about the resurrection "if Christ has not been raised...you are still in our sins" (1 Cor. 15:17), so too, we might say about the ascension "if Christ has not ascended into heaven itself, we are still in our sins." Even after the work on the cross, there remains the phase of Christ's exaltation in order to apply the benefits of redemption. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck has wisely stated, "Without application, redemption is not redemption" and "In his state of exaltation there still remains much for Christ to do."1 

The Ascension and Christ's Kingship in Glorified Humanity.

Hebrews is arguably one of the most Christological books of the New Testament. It is an exposition of the person and work of Jesus as the Son of God. From the very beginning the book of Hebrews is concerned with the reality of ascension of Jesus Christ and the implications that flow from this reality. We find the Son is the one whom the Father "appointed heir of all things" (1:2) and has now "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (1:3). He is the Son ascended.

The Son in his humanity was at one time lower in status than the angels. But now, after his suffering death, in his humanity he has been exalted up and crowned to rule over them and all of God's creation. He fulfills the Adamic vice-regency and the kingly mediatorship that was given to David and David's descendants. The eternal Son now incarnate fulfills the role that God intended for all humanity in the first Adam. The point is that in the exaltation (both resurrection and ascension) Jesus Christ as a true man is crowned with glory and honor.2 It is this Son, in the experience of true humanity that the Father says "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet".

The Ascension and Christ's Appointment to Priesthood

Not only is Christ's ascension into heaven his coronation to kingship on our behalf, Hebrews gives attention to how Christ's session at the right hand of God fulfills his work as our high priest. He is fully designated and coronated as high priest. He is the high priest who has passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:15; 8:1-2). Jesus Christ can only enter the Holy Place after he has accomplished our redemption. "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12).

The greater more perfect tent that Jesus enters is heaven itself. In the Old Testament "Day of Atonement" the sacrifice was made and then the high priest would proceed into the Holy of Holies to make intercession. So too with Christ, the blood of Christ was shed first so that Christ could go before the throne of God. Recently L. Michael Morales has shown how the book of Leviticus and the whole Pentateuch centers on the ascension offering at the Day of Atonement. The high priest is a cultic Adam who having offered the sacrifice "ascends" into the house of God.3 In the Septuagint, Aaron's Ephod was one of 'glory and honor,' echoing the Adamic language we find in Ps. 8 and Heb 2:6-8.4

The Ascension and the New Covenant.

The ascension of Christ guarantees to us that the New Covenant has begun. It is the oath of the priesthood given to him that makes him "the guarantor of a better covenant" (Heb. 7:22). Christ's ascension into heaven guarantees the oath is fulfilled. Christ is mediating the new covenant. Because it is into the greater tabernacle, the true tabernacle and not the earthly shadow, the ascension guarantees that Christ is mediating a greater covenant than the Old Covenant of the Law. "Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man" (Heb. 8:1-2).

In the Old Testament, as well as Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic texts, heaven is the throne of God. It is the true sanctuary where the earthly tabernacle or temple is a copy of what was in heaven. Moses made it after the pattern he was shown in heaven. The one on earth is a shadow cast by the real tabernacle of heaven itself that God made (Heb. 8:5). We are assured then that Christ is the mediator of something better, a greater covenant than the Old Covenant, because he has entered in ascension to God's right hand. If the earthly tabernacle was symbolic of God's house with a throne is the holy of holies, then heaven is the place of God's true and ultimate throne. Consider the following passages out of Hebrews that speak to this:

"But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Heb. 8:6)

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." (Heb. 9:11-12)

"Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant." (Heb. 9:15)

Christ is the greater covenant sacrifice by his death made on the cross but because he enters into the greater tabernacle, heaven itself, Christ's ascension has secured that the covenant is effective. To secure the effects of the mediation of the New Covenant the sacrificed one enters into the true tabernacle. The parallel to the Day of Atonement is striking: the sacrifice was made on the altar but then carried into the holy of Holies so that it could be placed before God's throne. So Christ dies on the cross but enters in glorified humanity offering himself before God in the throne room, 'cleansing the tabernacle' so we can draw near to God (Heb. 9:23-24). Even more, Hebrews overlaps this Day of Atonement imagery with the covenant inauguration imagery from Exodus 24. Just as Moses cleansed the people to put a covenant into effect, Christ cleanses us, entering heaven to sit down having finished his work (10:10-14). Christ is the greater Moses who has inaugurated the greater covenant in his ascension.

Whom Have I in Heaven But Thee?

"For, having entered a sanctuary not made with hands, he appears before the Father's face as our constant advocate and intercessor [Heb. 7:25; 9:11-12; Rom. 8:34]. Thus, he turns the Father's eyes to his own righteousness to avert his gaze from our sins. He so reconciles the Father's heart to us that by his intercession he prepares a way and access for us to the Father's throne." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.16)

The Bible teaches us that we cannot enjoy a relationship to God apart from Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. As a sinner, in order to be saved by grace, I need a high priest who has entered heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. God is the ruler who is exalted over all things, who 'reigns from heaven,' but we cannot approach the throne of his glory. We need the incarnate glorified Jesus to go before God the Father so that we might draw near to the Father.

The ascension is a beautiful doctrine. Its truth needs to resonate deep within our heart. It shapes our prayers and it defines our hope. We need to return again to understand the rich benefits of grace that flow from the fact that Christ has ascended into heaven on our behalf.

   

[1] Richard Gaffin, "Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards," The Practical Calvinist: An introduction to the Presbyterian and Reformed Heritage, (Ed. Peter Lillback; Christian Focus Publications, 2002) 430. The first quote comes from Herman Bavinck Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Kampen: Kok, 1976) 3:520 "Dempta application, redemption non est redemption" [Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2006) 523-4]; the second quote from Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3, p.568.

[2] I have argued more extensively for  the Second Adam features in Hebrews 2 in Timothy J. Bertolet, "Obedience of the Son: Adamic Obedience as the Grounds for Heavenly Ascension in the Book of Hebrews" (Ph.D. diss, University of Pretoria, 2017) ch. 4, pp. 157-242.

[3] L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Leviticus (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2015) 28-38, 167-184, esp. 175-6 & 182.

[4] Similarly, G.K. Beale has shown that Adam in the garden is both a king and a priest (Temple and the Church's Mission [Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2004] 66-68)


*This is a digested version of a longer treatment by the author on the theological significance of the ascension. You can download the unedited version here

The Power of Biblical Thinking

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Somewhat surprisingly, there has been a resurgence of interest in Norman Vincent Peale's power of positive thinking in our day. The Reformed Church in America minister--famous for giving people a panacea to protect themselves from all undesirable thoughts and actions--carved out a place for himself in American psychology and religion from the mid to late-twentieth century. President Trump has gone so far as to praise Peale for helping him embrace the idea of self-worth. In the newest season of Marvel's Jessica Jones, a character reads Peal's The Power of Positive Thinking while riding the public transport through a sketchy borough of the city. Ironically, this scene, full of sanguinity, fails to meet the criteria of what we might otherwise consider to be film noir. Nevertheless, the idea that you have the ability to think and speak away everything undesirable seems to have made a renewed headway in our culture.

Every week, I stumble across memes and posts on social media in which someone expresses to someone else the idea that they are "wonderful," "beautiful," "special," and "loved" (oftentimes, with the adverb "so" prefixed to the verb "loved"). When I read such sentiments, my mind immediately turns to the SNL sketch in which Stuart Smalley gives himself daily affirmations: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggonit, people like me." 

Joking aside, there is a draw to positive thoughts and words. No one enjoys being around a curmudgeon. No one likes living with fears and discouragement. All of us find it refreshing to spend time with optimists. There is enough misery, sorrow, sadness and suffering all around us. It is certainly a whole lot more enjoyable to spend time with positive people. 

Furthermore, there is something supremely biblical about thinking right thoughts. The Apostle Paul told the believers in Philippi, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." A little later in the same chapter, he wrote, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8). This is not, however, the same as the saccharine sentimentality that drips off of your Instagram feed. The context and foundation for the Apostle's admonitions is the redeeming work of Jesus. 

The problem with so much of what passes as spiritually enriching maxims is that it is not rooted in the truth of Scripture. God's word gives us the following descriptions in order to help us think properly about what we are by nature:

"There are none righteous, no not one...no one does good." (Psalm 14:1; 53:1; Rom. 3:10-12)

"All we like sheep have gone astray." (Is. 53:6)

"The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds." (Is. 1:5-6) 

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9)

"You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked...and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph. 2:1-3)

"You were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). 

There are hundreds of similar verses that depict our sinful spiritual condition before God by nature. One can easily understand why a meme that reads, "You are so beautiful and worth it," is vastly more popular than one that says, "We all are children of wrath by nature." The former feeds our flesh. The later is an affront to our sinful pride and self-righteousness. 

That being said, Scripture gives us astonishing descriptions of how God views those who are united to His Son by faith. Scripture tells us that "even when we were dead in our trespasses" (Eph. 2:5), God, who is rich in mercy and love toward us, made us alive together with Christ. We are now "the apple of his eye" (Zech. 2:8) and "jewels of his crown" (Zech. 9:16). Believers are "sons and daughters of the King" (Ps. 45:9; 82:6; Gal. 3:26), "the bride of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9; 21:9), "His glorious inheritance" (Eph. 1:18), saints (Phil. 1:1; 4:22; Col. 1:2, 1:4, 1:12, 1:26), the excellent ones (Ps. 16:3) and those "of whom the world is not worthy" (Heb. 11:38). 

In Scripture, there is a beautiful juxtaposition of what we are by nature and what we are by grace. Viewed from only one side, we would end up living in either hopeless pessimism or naive optimism. However, when you look at yourself through the biblical lens of God's Law, you discover that, "you are a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine;" then, when you look at yourself through the lens of Christ, you realize that "you're more loved than you ever dared hope." There is vastly greater comfort in that affirmation than in any empty shells of manufactured positive thinking. 

The Incomparable Conjunction of Love and Wrath

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I was recently reading John Murray's profoundly enriching sermon, "The Father's Love"--in the newly released volume of his sermon, O Death, Where is Thy Sting?--and was struck afresh with the wonder of the mystery of the commingling of the Father's love and wrath in His dealings with the Son on the cross. This greatest of all subjects received quite a good deal of attention last year, after Tim Keller tweeted out the following sentiment: "If you see Jesus losing the infinite love of the Father out of His infinite love for you, it will melt your hardness." While I certainly share the concern of those who reacted swiftly to the idea that the Son lost the Father's love when He hung on the cross, I was disheartened to see how many of the responses lacked a strong focus on the simultaneity of the manifestation of the Father's eternal love and divine wrath directed to the Son when He hung on the cross. In his sermon on Romans 8:32, however, Murray held these two seemingly incompatible truths inseparably together. 

When he first gave consideration of the words of the text, "spared not His own Son," Murray explained:

"The Father loved the Son with infinite and immutable love because he did not cease to be the only begotten Son, and the infinite love necessarily flowed out from the very relationship that he essentially and immutably sustained to God the Father" (76). 

Murray insisted that we must distinguish between the two kinds of love that the Father had for the Son. The first is that immutable, "infinite love that flows out from the Father to the Son because of the intrinsic relationship that they sustain to one another" (75) The second is "the love of complacency that flowed out with increasing intensity to the Son because of His fulfillment of the Father's commission" (75). This second kind of love that the Father had for the Son is captured in the words of Christ in John 10:17: "Therefore, the Father loves me because I lay down my life, that I may take it again." From this, we must conclude that the Father loved the Son incarnate the most, precisely at the moment when he was voluntarily laying down His life in connection with the command of His Father in the counsels of eternity. Murray noted:

"Every detail of the suffering endured by the Son constrained the love and delight of God the Father because it was all endured by the Son in obedience to the Father's will and--in the performance of the Father's will--the Son committed no sin." 

There is, however, "an incomparable conjunction" at the cross--"an unheard-of conjunction: infinite love and divine wrath." The Son becomes the object of the commingling of the love of the Father and the unmitigated wrath of the Father. "The essence of sin's curse and judgment," stated Murray, "is the wrath of God. So, if Jesus bore sin and if he bore our curse and if he was made sin, then the vicarious fearing of the wrath of God belongs to the very essence of his atoning accomplishment" (78). Here we see that the doctrine of propitiation is of the very essence of the truth of the Gospel. 

Murray further developed the mystery of the meaning of the conjunction of the manifestation of the Father's infinite love and divine wrath at the cross in this sermon, when he noted: 

"The truth is that it is just because the Son was the object of this immutable, infinite, and unique love that he could at the same time be the subject of the wrath of God... (78)

...It was only because the Son was the object of the Father's unique and immutable love that He could be thus abandoned. No other would be equal to it. The lost in perdition will be abandoned eternally, but not one of them will be able to of have occasion to say, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" The abandonment of Christ on Calvary's tree was abandonment in pursuance of the commission given him by the Father, and it was abandonment with the unparalleled effect of ending that abandonment. And because it was abandonment with this result, it was abandonment with inimitable agony and reality...(79)

...The determinate purpose of the Father's love was the explanation for the spectacle of the Son's death. But the love that the Father bore to the Son did not diminish the severity of the ordeal that creates this spectacle--the ordeal of the cross and the abandonment vicariously born" (79). 

The Father's love for those for whom the Son bears His wrath is set against the background of this wondrous conjunction of the Father's love and wrath directed to the Son. Murray noted, "The Father loved His people with such invincible love and purpose that he executed the full toll, the full stroke, of their condemnation upon His own Son. That is the Father's love" (77).

All of this should, of course, make us "stagger with amazement...the amazement of believing and adoring wonder" (77). When we come to understand that the Father loved the Son the most while making the Son the object of His full and unfettered wrath--as He stood in our place as our substitutionary sacrifice--our hard hearts are melted. It is the "incomparable conjunction" of the Father's love and wrath directed to the Son that enables believers to grasp something of the greatness of the love that the Father has for us. 

A Prayer for Survivors and East Lansing

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Our East Lansing community is grieving, hurting, and reeling in light of the revelations that emerged these past weeks regarding heinous atrocities committed in our community over the past twenty years. That this would happen anywhere is painful; that is happened in our community feels devastating. To say that we are distraught would be an understatement of epic proportions. As a university church, we especially feel intertwined with these events. Yesterday, during our worship service, we called on the Lord in light of recent events. Please join us in prayer.

Father, we come to you this morning with heavy hearts
For the evils committed in our community
The innocence that was stolen
And the pain that has been inflicted.

As the prophet said, so we hear
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more."

Our children, Lord! Our children
Oh, how our hearts are filled with sadness
and our eyes with tears
as we think of the small children, our teenage daughters, and young women
abused over the past twenty years
O Father, what wickedness
An evil that turns the stomach, confounds the mind, and depresses the soul
A monstrous evil committed in our community
An evil filled with selfishness and corruption
A wickedness that made a mockery of trust and authority
A crime injuring the least among us.

It pains us to think of a man committing such a crime over and over
And the pain only grows as we think how many turned a blind eye
But You did not
You did not.

We praise you this morning that you are a god of justice
Larry Nassar thought the abuse he committed would always be shrouded in secret
But nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest by your authority
Nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light in your light
For You will render to every man according to his deeds
Your justice will stand
And none can thwart it.

And so, we believe that it was no accident that these things have come to light
We thank You for those who had the courage to make these crimes known
What courageous young women
To stand against evil
To know they would become the objects of ridicule
To bare their soul's great pain before an unentitled world
To shine light in the midst of darkness
So that justice might be served
And others protected
We thank you for them.

We pray for each of these women, teenagers, and little girls this morning
Though their courage has been great, so has their suffering
Grant them healing under your wings
Give them hope amidst their pain
Extend to them comfort that can only come from above
And in the days and weeks and years ahead
May they find that though the scar remains, it has become less tender
That the dark days of the past have faded in their mind's eye
That the pain is less fresh
And healing more at hand
And we ask that the years that the locusts have eaten,
You would restore.

This morning, we especially want to pray for Rachel Denhollander,
our dear sister in Christ
Like Moses before Pharaoh, David before Goliath, and Paul before Felix
She has modeled for us sacrificial, strong, faith-filled-courage
Give us boldness like her
To speak for truth, to condemn evil, and to grant grace
What a testimony, a living testimony she is
Thank you for her leadership,
Her desire to pursue justice and at the same time to extend forgiveness
Truly we have much to learn from her
We pray that after this long battle--and it has been a battle
That after this long battle, you will give her rest
Rest in body
Rest in mind
Rest in spirit
Rest in heart
O Lord, Sabbath, be a resting place for her
For the sake of your name, shower her with your grace and love and peace.

We also praise you this morning that you are a God of truth
And so, we pray for our community
May truth reign
A university city which prides itself on the pursuit of knowledge
And yet so many swam in a sea of lies
Awaken this land to the evil in it
Lead us as a community in repentance
Heal us
And as the God of truth
Protect those who have done no wrong
Safeguard their reputations
Keep them from false accusations
May truth reign.

We also praise you this morning that you are a God of salvation
And so, we pray for Larry Nassar
As Rachel modeled before us,
so we pray that he would come to know You,
We pray that he would be brought low
That he would fall upon his knees
Be forced to reckon with the guilt of his sin
Its terrible weight and burden
So that he might find that his only hope is You
We would see him like Saul, an enemy of righteousness,
struck blind and given sight to see you the one and only true God.

Lastly, we thank you this morning that you are a God of compassion
That You do not sit idle in heaven
But look with a tender eye upon your people
And so, we pray for those hurting in our own midst
Some who have been abused in horrific ways like this
Others who have had loved ones experience this violating evil
Dark revelations like these over the past weeks
Easily bring old injuries floating to the surface
What felt like a pain of the past
All of sudden feels present again
O Father, wrap your everlasting arms around those hurting in our midst
May our church be a community where safety is found
Love is present
And hope is extended to all carrying such pain
And may You wipe away our every tear.

On a morning such as this
We take great comfort that You are
Our Father, who art in heaven
Comforting words any morning, but especially on mornings like this
Though our city and university appears to be swirling in chaos
You reign
You sit enthroned in heaven

And so it is to You we turn,
A glorious sovereign God,
But a god who is also our Father
A God of power and might
And fatherly tenderness
Where else could we turn?
Where else would we want to turn?
Keep us
Heal us
Protect us
Comfort us
And may You receive the glory.

Trying Not to Remember

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I've been thinking a lot about self-deception and the lies we tell ourselves. Sometimes we lie to others so that we can advance ourselves. Sometimes we lie to others so that we can gain a foothold to a place where the truth wouldn't, perhaps, get us. But self-deception is odd. Self-deception is something that doesn't get us anything tangible. Self-deception is something that we do because we cannot bear the truth about ourselves and would rather believe a lie.

As I have been preaching a series through the book of Revelation, I've noticed something of a pattern of deception that existed in several of the churches in chapters 2 and 3. The church in Sardis had one major problem--it had deceived others. That particular church had a reputation they had created and needed to uphold. There were appearances to keep up in Sardis. Laodicea had a similar problem--there was deception and false appearances in that church as well. It was different, however, in the sense that the church in Laodicea wasn't deceiving others without; rather, they themselves were the object of self-deception.

Men lie to themselves about all kinds of things. They lie to themselves about their weight (e.g. my weight on my driver's license may or may not be accurate). They lie to themselves about how disciplined they are (studies show that people under-report how much food they actually eat). And they lie to themselves about other things too (for example, why did you really get married?).

But one of the greatest lies that modern men and women tell themselves is that they are going to make it...that they aren't going to die; that they have a long life ahead of themselves; that they're going to be fine. I felt this was well illustrated this weekend when I watched the movie Passengers with my wife.

[Warning: some light spoilers to follow]

One of the conceits of the movie Passengers is that a space ship is on a very long flight to a habitable planet. 90 years before the ship reaches its destination (which is way too early in the narrative), one of the hibernation pods on the ship opens up and a single man is woken up. A good chunk of the movie is spent with this man wrestling with the reality that he will die alone before reaching the destination. Wrestling with the reality that he has to learn to live alone in isolation while this ship continues on its happy course, he instead opts to wake another passenger so that he doesn't have to spend the rest of his life alone. In doing so, of course, he condemns her to also die a similarly lonely death. When she finds out what he has done she says, "You've murdered me!" Personally, I would have waxed philosophical at that point and reminded her that we're all dying; but, hey, I'm not quite a hollywood hunk like Chris Pratt, so what do I know?

At this point, the movie had an opportunity to wade into some heavy meditations upon death and dying. Unfortunately, the morose theme of the story ends there as some larger conflict and resolution occupies the remainder of the story.

Passengers did remind me that human beings do, in fact, know that they are dying. We do know that the ship is sinking (faster for some than others). But we deceive ourselves with drink and sex and play, hoping to forget the thing that we know to be true. Rather than motivating ourselves to seek life and joy in the God who made us, the majority of humanity would rather content themselves with distractions than face these truths head-on.

We are happy to think upon death in small doses. In what is one of my favorite quotes , John Calvin touches on this point:

"That human life is like smoke or shadow is not only obvious to the learned, but even ordinary folk have no proverb more commonplace than this...But there is almost nothing that we regard more negligently or remember less. For we undertake all things as if we were establishing immortality for ourselves on earth. If some corpse is being buried, or we walk among graves, because the likeness of death then meets our eyes, we, I confess, philosophize brilliantly concerning the vanity of this life. Yet even this we do not do consistently, for often all these things affect us not one bit. But when it happens, our philosophy is for the moment; it vanishes as soon as we turn our backs, and leaves not a trace of remembrance behind it. In the end, like applause in the theater for some pleasing spectacle, it evaporates. Forgetful not only of death but also of mortality itself, as if no inkling of it had ever reached us, we return to our thoughtless assurance of earthly immortality." (Institutes 1:714)

Is there anything that contemporary man is better at than "thoughtless assurance of earthly immortality"? Distraction, amusement, false assurances, and self-deception motivate and drive almost his every waking thought and effort. These amusements are absolutely necessary because, in the face of the modern nihilistic tendency to believe that all is meaningless (unless we choose, somehow to infuse it with meaning all our own, of course), there is no answer to the truth that is the bedrock of man's despair - apart from God in Christ, all of this doesn't mean anything. And a thousand years from now nobody will remember you, or me, or anything that we do. The universe will die a cold death as every star burns out and every rock eventually floats away into empty nothingness. If the soul is not immortal and we are not redeemed, then there is no hope. And if you believe that, then distraction is ultimately all that you have.

Massive swaths of humanity have no answer to this problem. And so in the face of such a catastrophic reality, they choose to divert, to amuse, and to forget. They choose self-deception. They choose to lie to themselves. They try not to remember that there is a Creator. That he is holy. That he demands our soul, our life, our all.

Those of us who are in Christ have a firm basis for telling ourselves that we are going to make it. That our inevitable deaths will not be the end. Unlike the rest of humanity, we do not have to create our own tolerable existence through self-deception. For everyone else, the only option is trying not to remember.

Adam Parker is the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, MS. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.

The Soul Felt Its Worth

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We all wrestle with feeling worthless at some time or another. The world imputes value to individuals, whether it admits such or not, on the basis of gender, race, age, physical appearance, profession, possessions, income, intelligence, accomplishments, character traits, ability to make others laugh, and so on. Too often, Christian communities happily follow suit, making individuals within them feel valued (or not) on the basis of their standing relative to similar if not identical criteria. Fall short (as it were) in one or more of the categories just named, and you inevitably start to wonder, "what am I worth?" -- even if you formulate the question in different words, or struggle to formulate it at all.

Questions about self-worth may follow changes to our status in one or more of those categories that we, in obedience to the various cultures we inhabit, use to gauge our own value. It may be the slow process of aging and related breakdowns in physical and mental prowess that trigger doubt regarding one's worth. It may be the more sudden realization that someone else, perhaps an employer or a spouse, simply doesn't want you. Some years ago, an individual who (at that time) occupied a position of authority in my life told lies about me to persons both inside and outside our shared place of work. Consequently, I wrestled for many months with anger and a desire to take vengeance into my own hands. But more significantly I faced the temptation to believe the lies told about me, and measure my own worth by the standard of another's malicious judgment of my character and actions. I equally faced the temptation to believe the competing and well-meaning voices of friends, family, and colleagues, as well as my own internal voice, all assuring me that this individual's lies were simply that and encouraging me to gauge my worth in relation to my place on the scale of one or more of those closely cherished criteria (named above) for determining personal value. Sin savors lose-lose situations.

The gospel gives us radically different criteria for gauging our worth. In Christian theology we impute value to ourselves and others on the basis, first of all, of every person's creation in God's own image. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). Every human being, no matter their gender, race, appearance, accomplishments, etc., is created in God's image, and as such has unique value, even if they squander every gift given to them and devote themselves to the worst imaginable behavior for the course of their lives. Scripture calls us to specific ways of living in relationship to others on the basis of their divine image-bearing status: "With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:9-10). Translation: Treat others, both in word and deed, with the dignity demanded by their standing as image-bearers of God.

The reality of our creation in God's own image should also and equally inform assessments of self-worth. "What am I worth?" Quite a bit, actually, as one who both in solidarity with others and in my own unique abilities and gifts, whatever those might be, reflects the Triune God who made me.

But Christian doctrine also, I think, prompts us to discover our value in the lengths that our Triune God went to in order to rescue us from sin, death, and hell. This truth is captured by that gripping line in the nineteenth-century Christmas hymn O Holy Night: "He appeared, and the soul felt its worth." The worth discovered, or felt, by virtue of Christ's incarnation is the simple yet profound worth of being simply and profoundly loved by another. It is the recognition that "he" appeared not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many, of whom, for reasons I will never fully fathom, I am one.

Of course, assessments of self-worth rooted in recognition of God's deeply loving and saving activity on our behalf must not become subtle means of smuggling the world's criteria for determining value back into our hearts and our communities. God has not loved and rescued us because we, as his elect people, have made (or ever will make) the grade in terms of gender, race, age, physical appearance, profession, possessions, income, intelligence, accomplishments, character traits, ability to make others laugh, and so on. Scripture is unambiguous on this point. "One will scarcely die for a righteous person -- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5.7-8). God's love for us, and saving work on our behalf, is not a product of our worth. Our worth is a product of his love and saving work for us.

For my part, I have learned the value and worth that simply being loved by another establishes from my four-year-old daughter Geneva and her most treasured possession in life, "puppy." Puppy is a stuffed animal (a "soft toy" for Brits) that originally stood about seven or eight inches tall before he (or she, depending on Geneva's mood) lost all ability to stand or otherwise compose himself. After four years of fervent affection from Geneva, puppy is a brown and white shapeless blob that, having lost both ears in the course of his love relationship, now resembles an earthworm more than a dog. No one seeing puppy lying on the ground would bother picking him up, unless it were to perform his civic duty of discarding puppy in the nearest trash receptacle. But my wife and I would move heaven and earth to protect puppy, or to recover him were he lost. With the exception of the people and dog living under my roof, puppy is the single most valuable object in our home -- the thing that, more than any other, I would go out of my way to protect and preserve from harm or loss. Puppy has no apparent intrinsic worth. He is not loved because he is valuable. He is valuable because he is loved.

So too with us. As creatures made in God's own image, we do, unlike puppy, have intrinsic worth. But we derive immense, additional value from the simple fact that, as believers, we are immensely loved by God -- loved with a depth that led our Triune God to plan and execute our rescue through the appearing, suffering, and death of the beloved Son.

"What am I worth?" Quite a bit actually, in light of God's deep love for me, love that prompted him to go to such great lengths in order to secure for me a place in his eternal presence. As you ponder all that God has done for us in Christ this season, let your thoughts inform your appreciation for the immense value his love for you imparts to you.

Running the Race of Redemption

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John Cain.jpg"If I had died in the line of duty, I don't think that I would have come to Christ. If I had been shot, I would have worn that as a badge of heroism. But when God gave me cancer, He brought me to a place of weakness in order to show me my need for Christ." These were the precious words of Chatham County Sgt. John Cain, who died on Saturday evening after a year long battle with pancreatic cancer. John was repeatedly featured on national news a year prior for helping a battered marathon runner finish a race. Within a month, John was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After his diagnosis, John entered a race--a race in which he acknowledged his need for Christ to carry him across the finish line. 

John joined New Covenant this year. He loved coming to worship and talking about points in the sermon that deeply affected him. When I first met John, he would barely look me in the eyes or talk with me. However, over the past year, John would greet me on Sunday mornings with a deep joy in his eyes, even as his body was wasting away. John's godly parents have been members of our church these past 7 years. They sought to raise their children to love God's word. They expressed to me over the years that their greatest longing was for their now grown children to come to a saving knowledge of Christ. After John was converted, he would talk with me about spiritual realities when we sat together. Among those things that John would speak to me about most of all were the work of Christ, the forgiveness of sins and God's mysterious sovereign providence. He would reach deep into his mind to pull out all the things that he had learned from Scripture as a child--things that he now believed for the first time in his life.

John's life became a glorious testimony to God's redeeming grace. As painful as it was for me to sit by his bedside as he lay dying, my mind was repeatedly filled with a sense of the infinite wisdom of God in crafting the circumstances of John's life in order to draw him to His Son. One minute, John was a law enforcement hero, the next, he was a weak man who recognized his need for Christ and his utter dependence on God to sustain his life.

This Thursday, John will be honored with a police memorial funeral. This will be a glorious opportunity for the proclamation of the Gospel. To that end, I am asking you to partner with me in prayer, "that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel," and, that many of John's family members and law enforcement colleagues will hear the Gospel and will also put their trust in Christ.

The Savior at the Well

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"I am the woman at the well, 
I am the harlot 
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path 
I am the son that ran away 
And I am the bitter son that stayed

My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me 
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King? 
My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me? 
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song that I sing." (Caedmon's Call)

As a young believer--having been redeemed by God out of a prodigal lifestyle--I wept nearly every time that I listened to Caedmon's Call song, "Mystery of Mercy." Having been redeemed by God out of a prodigal lifestyle, I found myself in solidarity with the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the prodigal son, Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross. I came to see, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that I was no better than any of them. In fact, I saw that I was worse than they were. I came to realize that convicting His people of their sin and making them aware of the judgment they deserve because of it it is one of the greatest gifts of God's grace.

I also quickly came to realize that many Christian authors used aspects of biblical passages about Jesus' mercy to the undeserving in order to promote an antinomian understanding of the Gospel. For instance, Brennan Manning emphatically stated--with regard to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)--that Jesus "didn't demand a firm purpose of amendment" and "didn't seem too concerned that she might dash back into the arms of her lover" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 167). Manning also suggested the following: 

"I don't think that anyone reading this would have approved of throwing rocks at the poor woman in adultery, but we would have made darn sure she presented a detailed act of contrition and was firm in her purpose of amendment. Because if we let her off without saying she was sorry, wouldn't she be back in adultery before sunset?" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 173).

At the outset, I want to be clear that I stand firmly against those who teach that legal repentance and reformation is necessary in order for someone to come to Jesus--as if one needed to clean himself or herself up to make oneself acceptable to Christ. However, what Manning taught (from a disputed passage of Scripture, I would add) is not in keeping with the details of the text or the general manner of Christ's saving work in the lives of sinners. After telling the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you," Jesus says to her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). Having forgiven this woman of disrepute, Jesus called her to live out a godly life in keeping with the redemption that she had experienced by His grace. 

Of a somewhat different nature than Manning's misrepresentation of the woman caught in adultery is Sammy Rhodes' recent apology to members of the LGBTQ movement--in which he references Jesus' dealing with the woman at the well (John 4:1-30). While presumably seeking to draw attention to what a loving posture should be towards those who are engaged in sexual sin, Rhodes goes so far as to insist that Jesus "cared far more about sharing a drink with her than he did about her sexual choices." In doing so, Rhodes presents an inadequate picture of the Savior at the well. Additionally, by saying "We're all the woman at the well," Rhodes--perhaps inadvertently--leads us to believe that we are acting self-righteously, rather than in love, if we speak out against sexually sinful lifestyles. 

The Savior at the Well

In the first place, it should be noted that Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink of water in order to teach her about her own spiritual thirst and His ability to quench that thirst by means of His redemption. Jesus didn't simply care about "sharing a drink with her." He wasn't on a night out on the town. In the second place--and vastly more significant--is the fact that Jesus cared deeply about speaking to the woman about her "sexual choices." This is clear from the fact that he told her to call her husband, told her that He knew that she had previously been married five times and that He knew that she was currently committing adultery with the man with whom she was now living (John 4:16-18). Uncovering the sinful hearts of men and women is one of the chief ways in which the Savior works in the lives of those He is redeeming in order to draw them to Himself. To downplay Jesus' use of the Law with the woman at the well is to dimmish the way in which the Gospel works in the lives of believers; it is to present a Jesus who is less than determined to save His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). Jesus loved the woman at the well enough to tell her about her sexual sin so that she might see her need for Him. The most loving thing that we can do for others is to tell them about the Savior and about the sin from which they need to be redeemed by the Him. 

We see the importance of Jesus convicting the woman at the well of her sexual sin by the fact that John tells us: "the woman then left her waterpot" (a symbol of her empty life) and went her way into the city, and said to the men, 'Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" This woman had spent the better part of her life seeking to satisfy herself with men--the very thing that Jesus revealed to her. However, having finally found eternal life and satisfaction in Christ, she went and told the men of the city, "Come see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" She didn't go into the city and say, "I just met a really great guy who had a drink with me and didn't condemn anything about my sinful lifestyle." She told them that Jesus knew all about her sinful lifestyle. She said, "Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did." It was necessary for Christ to convict this woman of her sinful lifestyle and to show her the futility of it in order to help her see her need for Him and the redemption that can only be found in Him. 

Speaking Out in Love

It has become commonplace in our day to hear Christians say things like, "We can't lead with condemnation if we are ever to reach our LGBTQ neighbors." Sadly, I have, on numerous occasions, heard those same words propagated within the ecclesiastical circles in which I minister. Contrary to this mantra, The Apostle Paul marched into the epicenter of idolatry and sexual immorality with a condemnation of sin in order to lovingly help men and women see the greatness of the grace of God in Christ (see Romans 1:18-3:26). In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul took his readers from plight to solution in order to convince them of just how unrighteous all men are by nature. The Apostle was not self-righteously condemning others; rather, he was showing them more fully the need that they have for Christ. In fact, the Apostle went so far as to single out homosexual sin as the highest form of idolatry in a world full of people who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." After all, "Androgyny," as Jungian psychologist June Singer has noted in her book Androgyny: Toward a New Theory of Sexuality, "is the sacrament of monism." 

While the Apostolic writings on this point are clear (e.g. Romans 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11), it has become increasingly common to hear professing believers suggest that Jesus never condemned homosexuality. Anyone who reads the Scriptures honestly will find it a futile exercise to attempt to pit the ethics of Jesus against that of the Apostles. The Savior was crucified by the hands of men, in large part, because He exposed the sin that fallen man so desperately loves. Jesus said, "The world...hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (John 7:7). In the days of His flesh, Jesus preached against all sexual sin under the general category of "sexual immorality" (e.g. see Matt. 5:32 and 19:9). We dishonor the holiness and majesty of God by refusing to mention God's condemnation of particular sin when seeking to speak to our culture. 

In addition to dishonoring God and His holiness, we do our fellow image bearers a great disservice if we present a Gospel void of the accompanying conviction of God's Law. No one will ever see their need for Christ until they come to terms with the fact that they are sinners deserving of judgment. In the church membership vows of the PCA, we ask those coming for membership, the following question: "Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?" Acknowledging that we are deserving of judgment for our sin is an indispensable part of being a Christian. The Holy Spirit works through the Law of God to convince us of the fact that we are "sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure." 

We have unique cultural challenges in our day--challenges that tempt us to be silent on the difficult truths of Scripture, challenges to fear man rather than God and challenges to allow sin to go unchecked. We all feel the temptation to want to make Christianity more palatable for the masses by taking away from our presentation of it whatever our culture deems offensive. There is something right about our need to be cautious about our own offensiveness. We should never want to be offensive by means of our personal tone or motives in presenting the Gospel to men and women; however, we must always recognize that the Gospel is necessarily offensive in that it--working together with the Law of God--exposes our sin and shows us that our only hope is in the message of the crucified and risen Christ. While we acknowledge that we are exactly like the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, the prodigal son, Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross, we need not turn from telling others about the nature of sin and of the eternal danger that they continue to face in if they will not turn from it to the Savior who stands ready to forgive and cleanse His people by His grace. It is the most loving thing that we can do for our neighbors and fellow image bearers.  

No Adam, No Christ!

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Preaching through Genesis over the past year and a half has encouraged me to re-open quite a number of significant theological subjects--not least of which is the historical character of the foundational portions of God's revelation. Over the past 150 years, biblical scholars have spilled ink ad nauseam over the question of the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis (as well as other parts of the Old Testament). Denying the historicity of various portions of Scripture was the backbone of theological liberalism at the turn of the 20th Century. Today, in the biblical studies world, scholars are far more nuanced and sophisticated in the ways in which they deny the historicity of Genesis 1-3. With the rise of studies in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature and complex scientific theories of origins, there is no end to the ways in which its historicity is explained away. 

Today, quasi-evangelical scholars have concocted an amalgamated hermenuetical approach made up of various aspects of Higher Criticism, ANE mythopoetic categories and scientific theories of origin. One can find this amalgamated hermenuetic most notably (or perhaps most notoriously!) in the work of Peter Enns (who continues to spend inordinate time and energy seeking to overthrow the inerrancy and historicity of the foundational portions of biblical revelation). 

Nevertheless, the connection between the creation account and the subsequent redemptive revelation form the internal witness of Scripture to the idea that the historicity and theology of the creation narrative is inseparably linked to the historicity and theology of the redemptive (i.e. new creation) revelation. 

In his Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos helpfully illustrated the principle of connecting history and redemptive revelation when he said, "within the narrative of Scripture the creation narrative is interwoven like a link in the chain of God's saving acts. God does not make a chain of solid gold, in which the first link is a floral wreath." Vos developed this thought in the following way: 

If the creation history is an allegory, then the narrative concerning the fall and everything further that follows can also be allegory. The writer of the Pentateuch presents his work entirely as history. Against those that believe in the results of higher criticism, it can perhaps be useful to note that according to the critics who carve the Pentateuch into pieces, Genesis 1 belongs to the Priestly Codex, that is, to the more sober, non-poetic part of the Torah. The same writer who describes the layout of the tabernacle and the clothing of the priests gives us the narrative of creation, and he connects both. Further, elsewhere in Scripture Genesis 1 and 2 are treated as history (Exod 20:11; 31:17; Ps. 8; 104; Matt 19:4; 2 Pet 3:5).1

John Murray, in his Principles of Conduct, also defended the historicity of Genesis 1-3 as over against a supposed mythological or mythopoetic interpretation. He explained: 

That Genesis 2 and 3, for example, is story, but does not represent history, the present writer does not believe. An express attempt to refute such an interpretation had not been undertaken...The historical character of the revelation deposited in the Bible does not comport with a non-historical view of that which supplies the foundation and starting point of that history. It is surely apparent how far-reaching must be the reconstruction of the Bible's representation respecting the history of revelation if we are to reject the historicity of the fall of Adam as the first man. It is the conviction of the present writer that a mythological interpretation is not compatible with the total perspective which the biblical witness furnishes.2

Murray, like Vos before him, proceeded to root his argument in the fact that the rest of biblical revelation adopts a historical approach to Genesis 1-3. 

To state the case positively, the concreteness of Genesis 2 and 3, as historically interpreted, is thoroughly consonant with the concreteness which characterizes the subsequent history of Old Testament revelation. It should be noted that of supreme importance is the fact that Jesus and the Apostles assumed the historical character of the Old Testament, and frequently referred to the historicity of the creation narrative, Adam, Noah, a world-wide flood and the Exodus. In Mark 10:6, Jesus affirmed the historicity of the creation account of Genesis 1 when He said, "from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'" When he came to predict the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, Jesus again affirmed the historical nature of the creation account of Genesis when He said, "in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be."3

Appeal to how the writers of Scripture viewed the historical character of the creation/fall account of Genesis is, without doubt, the strongest internal-witness argument of Scripture. This point of paramount significance is seen by a brief survey of how both the Old and New Testament human authors of Scripture viewed the creation account:

  • Moses tells us how Adam was created (Gen. 1:26; 2:5-8) and how many years he lived (Gen. 5:5). 
  • The writer of 1 Chronicles traced humanity from Adam to David (1 Chronicles 1 and 2) by means of historical genealogy. If Adam was not a historical being then neither were all the people from Adam to David. 
  • Job likened the hiding of his sin to Adam's covering his sin (Job 31:33). 
  • Luke traced Jesus' genealogy (from Mary) back to Adam (Luke 3:38). If Adam was not a historical being then neither were all the people from Adam to Jesus. Jesus declared that "He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' (Matthew 19:4). 
  • Paul explained that the reason for death and condemnation was the representative, imputed guilt of Adam's sin (Rom. 5:12-21). Paul also explained that the external giving of the law was first with Adam and then with Moses. Those who were not given external law from Adam to Moses still had the sentence of death in them because of Adam's sin. Paul explains, "death reigned from Adam to Moses" (Rom. 5:13). If Adam was not a historical being then neither was Moses.
  • Paul explained the solution to our deserved condemnation in the obedience of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:12-21). He explicitly declared that the first Adam was a "type" of the second Adam. If Adam was not a historical being then neither was Jesus. 
  • The apostle defended the role relation of men and women in the church by the order in which Adam and Eve were created and were tempted (1 Timothy 2:13-14). Eden was the prototype of every subsequent culture. No one can say Paul's teaching was culturally bound because he takes it back to the Garden. He viewed the Genesis account as an accurate historical record of Eden. 
  • The apostle urged the NT church to defend the Gospel by reminding them of the way in which Satan--in time and space--had deceived Eve: "I fear, lest, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3)."

Some have responded to the statement "If Adam didn't exit then neither did Christ" by appeal to the continuum fallacy. Ironically, such an appeal is itself a fallacious appeal to logical fallacy. If in historical narratives/genealogies we have explicit statements of generational descent then we have to conclude that it is either A) true (based on the authority of Scripture) or B) untrue. Because of the trustworthiness of Scripture--the variable of variables, in this case--we cannot conclude that part of the genealogy is true and part is untrue. Hence there is no continuum fallacy as there might be with that sort of reasoning where the "inerrancy/authority" variable is not present. 

While some conservative biblical scholars may, in fact, play the "slippery slope" argument too quickly (and even, at times, inappropriately), when the authority of Scripture is brought into the mix, our reasoning is affected in a way that it is otherwise not affected by those things that are not distinctly biblical. For example Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, makes a number of logical arguments about Christ's resurrection and the subsequent impact it has on our preaching, faith and personal resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14-18). As is true of the connection between the historicity and theology of the resurrection of Christ so too of the historicity and theology of the creation and fall account of Genesis 1-3. 


1. Geerhardus Vos. Reformed Dogmatics. R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, & A. Janssen, Trans (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012-12014) vol. 1, p. 161. 

2. John Murray Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1957) p. 9

3. Ibid.

More Goodness Showed To Us Than to Christ

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Christians affirm that God is good, but just how good is God? We can speak of him being "infinitely good" but that still doesn't help the person in the pew much. People need specifics.

Is it possible that God could show more goodness to his people than to his beloved Son? 

Think of the truth that the Father poured out wrath upon his Son - his Son in whom he has always been well-pleased (Matt. 3:17; 17:5), even from eternity. How do we understand this mystery? 

In one sense we can say that God was never more happy with his Son than when he was most angry with him. What does that mean? As John Owen says,

"[The Father] was always well pleased with the holiness of [Christ's] person, the excellency and perfections of his righteousness, and the sweetness of his obedience, but he was displeased with the sins that were charged on him: and therefore it pleased him to bruise him and put him to grief with whom he was always well pleased."

This understanding of our redemption leads us to say something rather provocative: that the goodness shown to us, God's people, is "a greater goodness to us, than was for a time manifested to Christ himself" (Charnock). 

God's wrath upon his Son was so intense that it could have sunk millions of worlds of sinful men and angels (Owen). Christ was forsaken by the Father for a time in order that the Father would never forsake us (Heb. 13:5). 

We received a promise that even Christ himself did not receive: Heb. 13:5 - the promise that God will never leave us nor forsake us. Of all the promises made to Christ from the Father, Christ could not have been told that the Father would leave him or forsake him.

The holy one of God was declared at Calvary to be unholy so that unholy creatures like us might be declared to be as holy as the holy one of God. God valued the redemption of the elect so much that He sentenced His own Son to humiliation on earth so that all who belong to Christ may be exalted in heaven. 

So in speaking about the goodness of God, we must speak vividly, sometimes provocatively, about the way in which his goodness is shown to us:

"God was desirous to hear him groaning, and see him bleeding, that we might not groan under his frowns, and bleed under his wrath; he spared not him, that he might spare us; refused not to strike him, that he might be well pleased with us; drenched his sword in the blood of his Son, that it might not for ever be wet with ours, but that his goodness might for ever triumph in our salvation; he was willing to have his Son made man, and die, rather than man should perish, who had delighted to ruin himself; he seemed to degrade him for a time from what he was" (Charnock).

To affirm that for a time God showed more goodness to us than to his Son is to say that Christ's shrieks, cries, and spiritual agonies were not pretended but real.  

We are living in an age, I believe, where preaching has fallen on hard times. There are many reasons for this, but one reason I believe is obvious: pastors have a limited range of vocabulary and do not paint pictures for God's people to be moved by God's goodness, love, patience, wrath, etc. 

God is gracious: fine! But how is God gracious? That's the job of the preacher: to make God's people understand, love, and believe God's grace to them. 

Rapid hand movements are taking the place of vivid, memorable words. Our words, not dramatic hand-waving, should keep the attention of God's people. Sacred rhetoric has been replaced by the karate kid.  

The highest gift possible for the Father to bestow upon his people was the gift of his Son - his Son whom he showed less goodness to for a while than vile, God-hating sinners like you and me. Thus when we speak of God's goodness, we can say that his goodness is such that he showed more love to us than for a time he showed to the one in whom he had no reason to show wrath except that it was better for us that he did.  

Warfield on the Incarnation

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Cur Deus homo? "Why did God become a man?," Anselm asked. This is a question that has exercised theologians for hundreds of years, with the canonical materials receiving their first deep and searching analysis in Athanasius' On the Incarnation of the Word of God. The question received new urgency after the rise of a school of thought that held that the Incarnation would have occurred regardless of the fall of man in Eden--because creation itself, teleological as it is, seemed to demand it. What nearer manifestation of God could man have had than for God to dwell among us? And how could man have possessed happiness fully without him so dwelling? If the perfection of created nature can only be achieved through its close union with God, the Incarnation, it may seem, would have occurred whether or not man sinned. And yet the Scriptural witness runs in precisely the opposite direction. Is there any way to hold that witness together with what many have felt to be the goal of creation as such? Should we want to?

We can get some help from Benjamin B. Warfield, whose brief essay "The Principle of the Incarnation," first published in 1900 in The Bible Student, is a lucid treatment of these issues.

So, first: the issue of the Scriptural witness. The testimony of the New Testament is nearly unanimous that what Warfield calls the "motive" for the Incarnation was soteriological rather than ontological: the Incarnation as presented in the New Testament sprang from the need of man as wrecked and undone by sin rather than from the need of man as such. 

One can easily assure himself that this is the case by a perusal of both the Johannine and the Pauline writings. Warfield's comment on "For God so loved the world..." can be taken as a summary: "The emphasis thrown upon this teaching in the great passage, John iii. 16sq., indeed, is so intense as to be almost oppressive: the gift of God's Son is accounted for, it is intimated, only by the intensity of His love for the perishing world, and it is added with explicit iteration, that God sent the Son into this sinful world only 'that the world might be saved through Him.'" Elsewhere in the essay Warfield refers to this love as God's "Holy Love," which he calls God's "consummate attribute," the fierce, invincible, leonine love that purposes to rescue those who would sooner spit in the face of God with head held high than beg for mercy on bended knee. This Holy Love of God, that is, takes form soteriologically, as a response to man's suicide; thus Warfield calls sin the "proximate occasion" of the Incarnation and redemption its "prime end." The "principle of the Incarnation" is found "in the provision of a remedy for human sin." Its proximate cause cannot be found "either ontologically or ethically in God, or in the nature of the Logos as Revealer, or in the idea of creation, or yet in the created product and especially man as made capable of receiving God and therefore not finding his true end until he is raised to union with Him."

What, then, of seeing in the Incarnation the consummation of creation, the answer to man's longing for fullness of being in union with God? Is it to be dismissed as just so much pious pantheistic nonsense, a contentless romantic longing to be swallowed up by the Absolute in the ecstasy of an overindulged and malformed aesthetic sensibility? To be sure, it could take this form, and probably often does. But it need not--and anyway, abusus non tollit usum; and Warfield is surprisingly candid in his endorsement of the partial truth of what advocates of "Incarnation anyway" (I borrow the phrase from the title of a recent book by Edwin Chr. van Driel) propose--of the deep insight regarding the chief end of man that they want to protect. Warfield remarks that "[t]he Incarnation is so stupendous an event that it is big with consequences and reaches out on every side to relations that may even seem at first glance to stand in opposition to its fundamental principle." He goes on:
It is certainly true that all that is, is the product of the hand of God, and has, as coming from Him, somewhat of God in it, and may well be looked upon as a vehicle of the Divine. And surely it is true that He has imprinted Himself upon the work of His fingers; and that as the Author of all, He will not be content with the product of His power, until it has been made to shadow forth all His perfections: and it cannot be wrong to say that so far as we can see it is only in an Incarnation that He could manifest Himself perfectly to His creatures. Similarly the Logos as the Revealer must be supposed to desire to make known to the sentient creation all that God is, and preeminently the height and depth and length and breadth of that love of His which passes knowledge, and which assuredly lies at the base of the Incarnation and was its impulsive cause. And above all it cannot be doubted that it is only in the union with God which is the result of Christ's incarnated work, that man attains his true destiny--the destiny designed for him from the beginning of the world and without which in prospect as the goal set for His creatures by the Holy Love which God is, so far as we can see, man never would have been created at all. There is scarcely a mode in which the absolute necessity of the Incarnation has been asserted, indeed, which cannot be perceived to involve an element of truth which it would not be well to permit to slip from our cognizance.
Again:
No one doubts that "the Gospel" is embodied in creation itself, and that, as the Scriptures teach, it was "in the Son of His love" that "all things were created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers," that "all things have been created through Him and unto Him" and that He is therefore the goal to which all creations tends.

I have quoted Warfield at some length, because readers may be startled at how far he is willing to go to meet the partisans of "Incarnation anyway." But how does one square these affirmations with Holy Scripture's insistence that the occasion and end of the Incarnation were sin and redemption?

Warfield finds the solution in the "order of the decrees," something that perhaps on first glance sounds stridently Calvinist and therefore catholically useless--so goes the assumption of fuzzy ecumenical thinking. That is to say, the decree of Incarnation follows in God's plan as a consequence of the fall. Note what this allows Warfield to do, viz., to view the Incarnation as both predestined to occur before the creation of the world (in keeping with suprlapsarian Christology) and as contingent (in keeping with the infralapsarianism indicated by the apostolic witness). Therefore the world--this world, the world we live in--was created with both fall and Incarnation in view, and so it would make sense for us to be able to see traces of the divine counsel respecting man's fall and man's restoration by the God-man bodied forth in creation itself. "It can be truly said," Warfield says, "that the Incarnation was contemplated and provided for in creation itself and we may seek to discover and trace the provisions for it made in creation." The divine plan included redemption from the beginning, and it can therefore be seen to be indicated in creation itself as we know it (we should not be surprised at the close connection between creation and redemption; the history of redemption is the true history of postlapsarian creation, after all). God governs the universe absolutely, and creates in accord with his own sovereign plan and purpose. For that reason, the world that he has made--again, this world--reflects that purpose. The Incarnation is part of that purpose, and therefore the world as we know it reflects the Incarnation. "To such a God," says Warfield, "there belongs of necessity an all-inclusive plan for the government of the universe; and He contemplates this in all its parts from the depths of eternity: and in the unity and completeness of this plan the fall too will take its place, and the Incarnation as contingent upon it, but not therefore in any way uncertain of occurrence,--towards which therefore the whole creation may move."

What Warfield means, I think, is that God planned and saw omnisciently all that would occur before he created anything at all; and the world that he then made was the theater in which the great events of his mighty hand and outstretched arm were to occur. What kind of theater would it be if it did not have a set coherent with the action of the play? When we know how to look at it in the right way, the set gives us clues as to the story being told. And just as the set finds fulfillment only when the right story is played out against its backdrop, so our world only finally makes sense when seen in light of the unfolding of the history of redemption, and particularly of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection.

Finally, the predication of the Incarnation upon the fall is for Warfield not only true because it is the Scriptural scheme; affectively it answers to something deep in the bones of our faith. His witness here is the Seraphic Doctor: "And surely we may say with Bonaventura, that even if some other opinion of the motive and end of Christ's coming into the world seemed to us more consonant with the rational judgment, it would nevertheless be this [that is, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners] that would commend itself to the Christian heart,--'because it more ardently kindles the affection of faith.'" "Only so," Warfield concludes, "is the answering love of the saved sinner drawn out to its full height." In part 2, then, we will look at the way in which the Incarnation functions as an example for the redeemed sinner.



Calvin takes as given the historicity of Adam and Eve and the events surrounding their creation and fall. He rebukes, on this score, the 3rd century theologian Origen and "others like him" who -- finding little of value in Adam and Eve's historical personages -- "took refuge" in allegorical interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Such interpretation generally discovered nothing but moral(istic) import (in medieval technical terms, a tropological meaning) in the events depicted in these chapters.

Yet Calvin has no qualms whatsoever about discerning in our first parents' rebellion and God's response to the same a pattern which finds expression in every subsequent generation of rebels-without-good-cause doing their rebel thing against God. In other words, a careful consideration of Adam's sin and God's response to it has much to teach us not only about Adam's sin and God's response to it, but also about our own sin, our efforts to evade culpability for sin, and God's work of exposing sin for what it is and then dealing with it far more effectively that we ever could.

What might we learn from Adam's response to his own sin? We learn something about our persistent efforts to evade responsibility for what we've done and, when such evasion proves unsuccessful, to make satisfaction for our guilt on our own terms. 

Efforts to evade culpability for sin generally involve a fair bit of finger-pointing at others. Thus Adam points his finger first of all at God and tries to blame him for his dire situation. Discovered by God in the garden (vs. 9) after trying to hide himself among the trees (vs. 8), Adam names his nakedness, rather than his crime, as the reason for his reluctance to face God. It was, of course, God himself who created Adam "starkers" (as my wife would say); thus, Adam's naming of his nudity as the source of his shame was essentially an attempt on his part to "transfer to God the charge which he ought to have brought against himself." It was, in other words, an effort to root "the origin of evil in nature," and so to make God -- the author of nature -- morally responsible for Adam's shame and everything which informed it.

When asked more pointedly whether he had broken God's commandment (vs. 11), Adam merely doubles down in the blame game, simultaneously putting forward "his wife as the guilty party in his place" and advancing yet another "accusation against God," inasmuch as Eve "had been given [to him] by God." Eve, for her part, learns a quick lesson from Adam: "[Eve] is not struck dumb" (as she should have been by the gravity of her guilt), "but, after the example of her husband, transfers the charge to another; by laying the blame on the serpent she foolishly, and indeed impiously, thinks herself absolved."

So it goes with each of us: "We also, trained in the same school of original sin, are too ready to resort to subterfuges of the same kind," ultimately daring even to blame God for the sinful desires which we indulge. But our own finger-pointing is "to no purpose," Calvin reminds us, "for however much incitements and instigations from other quarters may impel us, yet the unbelief which seduces us from obedience to God is within us; the pride which brings forth contempt is within." 

Even more futile than Adam's attempts to evade culpability is his effort to deal with his shame by cloaking himself with "a girdle of [fig] leaves." "There is none of us," Calvin comments, "who does not smile at [such] folly, since, certainly, it was ridiculous to place such a covering before the eyes of God." 

Yet our own efforts to deal with our guilt often prove more laughable than Adam's. Calvin insightfully identifies the simple passage of time as one of the more flimsy cloaks we seek to cast over our sin and culpability. The more minutes, hours, and days that intervene between us and our transgressions, the less we feel the sting of guilt for what we've done. And so we delude ourselves into thinking that God, like our own forgetful consciences, is actually appeased by time. "By an oblivion of three days' duration, we imagine that we are well covered." Unfortunately for our delusion, God transcends time, and so our criminal actions and our guilt are ever present (tense) to him. Time may heal certain wounds between human parties, but before God, time proves just a futile as a pair of fig-leaf undies for covering our guilt.

From God's response to Adam's sin we gain insight into what God continually does with sin (and, in that process, sinners), first naming it for what it really is, and then dealing with it through the atoning work of his own Son.

Calvin discerns a two-part movement in God's response to Adam's sin; God first convicts Adam, and then consoles Adam. God convicts Adam by coming "nearer" to him and -- both literally and metaphorically -- drawing him out, "however unwilling and resisting," from "the tangled thicket of trees" where he has hidden himself. The exposure of Adam ultimately consists in God's reminder to him of that single explicit command given to him when the garden of delights was entrusted to his care. 

Thus God's commandments ever serve to convict sinners of their guilt: "In the same manner we also are alarmed at the voice of God, as soon as his Law sounds in our ears." In most cases, of course, genuine admission of guilt requires sustained exposure to God's Law. "We snatch at shadows, until he, calling upon us more vehemently, compels us to come forward, arraigned at his tribunal."

Having humbled and convicted Adam by means of his Law, God consoles Adam with the good news of One who would come to reverse the fall and its catastrophic consequences, and through his perfect obedience to God's Law and suffering for sin provide a covering far more substantial than fig leaves for Adam's guilt and shame; a covering, indeed, which God himself would prove unwilling and unable to penetrate with his gaze. God consoles Adam, in other words, with the promise of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who in due course would fulfill God's law and suffer death in the stead of Adam, Eve, and every subsequent sinner willing to place his or her confidence solely in him.

Jesus Christ was named rather obscurely to Adam and Eve (in the midst of God's rebuke of the Serpent) as "the seed of the woman" who one day would crush the Serpent's head (vs. 15). "Certainly in that [promise] the remission of sins and the grace of eternal salvation is contained." The precise woman in view in this prophetic text is not, Calvin argues, the Virgin Mary (contra Roman interpretation), but Eve, who "being first deceived... had peculiar need of consolation." 

The "seed" who would triumph over sin and all its consequences is, of course, Jesus Christ, who crushes the Serpent's head in his death and resurrection. But it is not him alone. Noting the collective sense of the word "seed" (i.e., descendants), Calvin discovers in Genesis 3.15 an additional promise that every believer who joins himself or herself to Christ will, in him, equally triumph over the Serpent (and so over sin, death, and hell), and thus be restored to eternal fellowship with God. Genesis 3.15 contains, then, nothing short of the promise of one whose work would eradicate the guilt and shame of every person willing to take off his or her fig leaves and put on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

In sum, while Adam is, according to Calvin, a genuine historical person, there is also a genuine sense in which Adam constitutes a symbol of every man (and woman). Adam's sin and God's response to it serve as a (prophetic) picture of every individual's response to his or her guilt and God's own, more radical response - namely, that of bringing the sinner to the depths of despair by confronting him or her with his Law, only to raise the sinner to the highest peaks of hope by consoling him or her with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his sin-atoning work.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

"Behold the blessèd Lamb of God"

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L.M. (Eden)
Behold the blessèd Lamb of God,
Who for the world poured out his blood;
He died and suffered on the tree
That men the grace of God might see.

Behold the bleeding Sacrifice -
Salvation at unmeasured price.
He came to this dark world below,
God's greatest blessing to bestow.

Behold the Saviour, Christ the King,
Let all his ransomed people sing
Of him, who to redeem us died,
But reigns now at the Father's side.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

"God set before me love"

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S.M. (Bod Alwyn)
God set before me love
To draw my soul to him,
But I was bound in Satan's chains
And revelled in my sin.

I saw the mercy seat,
Was taught the way to go;
I saw that Christ had died for sin,
But did not want to know.

I would not follow him,
I fought against his call,
But God would have me be his child,
Him be my All in All.

God set before me fear,
Darkness, despair and dread.
He drove me forth into the night
Where angels fear to tread.

As wreckage on the sea
Before God's storm I fled,
Exhausted, scourged and fearing still,
To where my Saviour bled.

While still his enemy
He suffered for my sin.
As clouds across a storm-swept sky
God sped my soul to him.

Still understanding not
I wept and feared until
At the bright throne of God I found
Grace, love, and mercy still.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

"In Eden's sinless garden"

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7 6. 7 6 (St. Alphege)
In Eden's sinless garden
A man and woman stood,
Each crafted in God's image,
And both entirely good.

The serpent entered Eden,
And entered both their hearts;
And neither did resist him,
Fell to his fiery darts.

So Adam's abdication
Was punished by the Lord;
Eve's insubordination
Jehovah much abhorred.

Then came the Second Adam
Into the wilderness.
Where Adam fell, he conquered,
Both to restore and bless.

He raises from the ruins
Of Eden's shattered bliss,
And by his saving power
Does Satan's blight dismiss.

True men, pursue with courage
Loving nobility;
True women, with true beauty,
Submissive dignity.

You sons of Adam, glory
That Jesus sets you free.
Eve's daughters, bow before him,
Embrace your liberty.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

The Man of Joy

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If creation provides the basic mold filled by redemptive re-creation (Is 45:18; Rev 7:9; 1 Cor 15:45), and if human fathers with their children, however finitely or imperfectly, image God as the Father of His children (Matt 7:11; Heb 12:7), then many who have welcomed a new life into the world--as I had the tremendous joy of doing last week--have perhaps experienced a faint replica of the joy of heaven as countless chosen sons are reborn and brought to glory (Luke 15:7; Is 62:5). 

Of course, even the highest earthly joys can hang by a thread. The same hospital delivery room has seen many tears of heartache, too. But the Christian's joy, present by faith now (2 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:8) but one day destined to be full by sight (Ps 16:11; Matt 25:21), is everlasting.  Bound up with our eternal inheritance, the joy that flows from the exalted Christ to the saved sinner is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Pet 1:4).  It is the kind of joy that the Spirit infused into Christ's human soul when He contemplated His Father's saving wisdom (Luke 10:21). And it is the kind of joy that sustained Christ's earthly pilgrimage precisely because, as Warfield writes, "He came as a conqueror with the gladness of the imminent victory in his heart."  This joy of the Savior, he goes on to say,

"was not the shallow joy of mere pagan delight in living, nor the delusive joy of a hope destined to failure; but the deep exultation of a conqueror setting captives free. This joy underlay all his sufferings and shed its light along the whole thorn-beset path which was trodden by his torn feet. We hear but little of it, however, as we hear but little of his sorrows: the narratives are not given to descriptions of the mental states of the great actor whose work they illustrate. We hear just enough of it to assure us of its presence underlying and giving its color to all his life. If our Lord was 'the Man of Sorrows,' he was more profoundly still 'the Man of Joy.'" (Warfield, The Emotional Life of our Lord)

Speaking of sorrow and joy, which dimension of Christian living is the more profound among the Christians you know?