Introducing “Ecclesiology Matters”

What is the church? Many today don’t care to think much about the church. And, if we’re honest, most of what we think about when we hear the word “church” is not positive. Stories of abuse, neglect, hypocrisy (you name it) abound. If only the church were more like her founder, Jesus, people say. It has become all too easy to try and be a “Jesus Christian” without being a “church Christian.”

The problem with our thinking at this point is that the New Testament simply does not give us that option. In fact, we stand on the verge of idolatry. What I mean to say is that when we claim to follow a Jesus apart from the church, then the Jesus we claim to follow is a false Jesus. We are just making Christ in our own image at this point.

Jesus Himself constituted the church and chartered her to speak for the Kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 16:13-20; 18:15-20). Jesus purchased the church from her sin to be His bride. We, poor and vile sinners, have inexplicably been brought into His house of wine. Standing on the sufficient merit of Christ alone, we have by faith and repentance been brought to God and together with other Christians.

There is sense in which this church is composed of every Christian, from every place and every age. Our eternity will be spent with our brothers and sisters who have been made to see the glory of God in Christ as their Supreme Treasure, as we worship the Lamb who was slain and by so doing ransomed us from the wrath of God (Revelation 5 and 7). This universal church is a wonderful reality and should ground our fellowship with other gospel Christians all across the world.

However, the universal church takes an institutional and indeed visible shape here on earth. Until Christ returns, it is actually the local church that the New Testament speaks of most prominently. This is the matrix in which Christian life is played out in. Membership in a local body of Christ’s people is required for those who have been brought from death to life.

So what is a church? How is it to be structured and governed? Who gets to be in the church? Does baptism and the Lord’s Supper have anything to do with it? Can we have multiple sites or services and still be called one church?

All these questions and more are what this series called “Ecclesiology Matters” will seek to answer. It is my hope that your love for the local church will grow as we seek to glorify God together as members. May God be magnified, not only in our own individual discipleship, but in our corporate discipleship as well. It is here, in the local church, where God has placed His name. We do well to take it seriously.

The Why You Do The Things You Do

The Temptations’ first big hit was called, “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” The whole point of the song is to tell this girl that she is great, not only because of what she does, but because of how she does them. “You got a smile so bright you know you shoulda been a candle.” “The way you smell so sweet you know you coulda been some perfume.” And the chorus goes on to say: “Well, you coulda been anything that you wanted to and I can tell, the way you do the things you do.”

The way you do the things you do matter. But even more so, the why you do the things you do really matters. It is not enough to do things. That is good. But the root of the issue is why you do them. Motivation matters. Deeds rise from the source of the affections. What want we will.

This is a devastating truth for sinners. By nature we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3). What we want is sin! When light came into the world we scurried into the dark corners of our hearts so as to not have to look outside of ourselves and find our all in God (John 3:17ff). The Pharisees diligently searched the Scriptures and yet they did so to boast their own self-righteousness. Their motivation was their own glory and so they missed the entire point, which was to see the glory of Christ and His work on the behalf of His people (John 5:39-40). Their problem was not that they loved the Bible too much but too little and in an illegitimate way. Their piety was a facade, driven by their own sinful desires.

The picture is actually much more bleak. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him…” God is not pleased by our fig-leaf morality. Our attempts to “be good” are like dressing up a corpse. It isn’t commendable. It’s damnable. Similarly in Romans 14:23 Paul says that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Any action done, no matter how good it may appear externally, is utter blasphemy if not done out of a heart that is trusting in Christ alone for their salvation. If our hearts are not operating out of an overflow for all of God is for us in Christ then whatever we do will not be pleasing to the Lord. The gospel must motivate our actions. Motivations matter. The why you do the things you do matter.

Saving faith is not only trusting in the righteousness of Christ and turn from all of your sin. It can never, ever be less than that! However we must be careful not to preach saving faith in a way that makes God another means to whatever end we would already love to see fulfilled in our flesh. Saving faith is rest in Christ alone to save and satisfy! Justification by faith alone is the heart of the gospel. But it isn’t the goal of the gospel. Justification by faith alone in the Christ alone to the glory of God alone is good news because it brings us to see and savor the glory of Jesus Christ in that good news. Christ suffered once, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

The reason that we sin is because we are sinners. Is that a distinction without a difference? Far from it! It is a distinction that is a world’s difference. Our evil hearts pour forth evil deeds, not vice versa. So if we are to do anything of any realspiritual good then we must have the Holy Spirit change our hearts. We need fleshy hearts but we are born with hearts of stone. We have as a good chance of changing our desires as a leopard has to change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23). So then we are totally dependent on God. Truly, we have no good apart from Him (Psalm 16:2).

For the Christian, we do have the ability to do the things we do with the correct “why.” We will struggle with our sin (including our motivations) until the day we die. The gospel continues to be good news. But the gospel is also good news because it promises to change us from the inside out. There are unfathomable riches in the gospel of free grace and these riches that we did not earned are used to fight for sight – sight to see God as He is and enjoy Him forever. And that is a fight. Holiness is beautiful, but because we are sinful, it is hard. Sin’s roots must be continually weeded from the garden of our hearts.

How do we do that? By focusing on the why we do the things we do. Indicatives (what God has done/who God is) leads and grounds the imperatives (what we are to do to live a life pleasing to God). Plants don’t grow by spending all of our time tending the flowers. Roots grow plants. We have to prune the flowers and be watchful over what they are exposed to, tending to any scorching heat or deathly frost that might come in their season. So we fight first to behold. Our holiness will rise to the level of the affected glimpses we get of Christ. When notice soul decay when our vision is disrupted (and that cuts both ways). To do the things we are commanded we must daily battle to see the Commander as supremely valued. Free grace and hard labor are not enemies. Holiness and happiness. Duty and delight. This is true gospel religion.

“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.”

The title above comes from a hymn that I just learned. We have sung it a couple of times at Third Avenue Baptist Church and it is very, very beautiful. But it is beautiful in a way that only a song about the cross can be. It is the kind of beauty that cannot be imagined by the natural mind. This is the kind of beauty that, when one sees it as it truly is, saves the sinner’s soul. This is the beauty of calvary – the peculiar splendor of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God slain for those who hated Him.

The words of this hymn capture the wonderful horror of the cross of Christ. The tune is somber, if not haunting. Glory is not often chipper. Dark melody gives way to light in the last lines of each verse and gives us a better sense of this gospel paradox- unspeakable sorrow and transcendent joy.

“Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected; yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he!
‘Tis the long expected Prophet, David’s son, yet David’s Lord;
by his Son God now has spoken: ’tis the true and faithful Word.”

The first verse sets the gruesome and surprising theme. The One who is dying on the cursed tree is the Christ. He is the Messiah, the One in whom the hope of God’s true people had always been. But even though they hoped better than they knew, they did not quite understand what was transpiring in front of their eyes. Had they understood better their Old Testaments better, they would have known that every single drop of blood spilled was pointing to this event. The entire world had been driving to this event. The cross stands at the center of history.

This Jesus was the Prophet long expected. But He is more than a prophet. Being David’s greater son, He is also David’s Lord. 2 Samuel 7 predicted the day when the eternal reign of David’s throne would be established and established by the accomplishment of the atoning work of a mediator. The question of the Old Testament about how a holy God could continue to save wretched sinners would finally be answered here – on a cross. In Christ, redemption and revelation are complete. Eternal joy, though in an unexpected form, has dawned.

“Tell me ye who hear him groaning, was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distress;
many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.”

The hymn writer sets us up to see the true meaning of the cross. Many are fine with attributing tremendous physical suffering to Christ on the cross. They see it as a model for self-sacrifice and obedience. And that is not false. The physical sufferings of Christ are unfathomable. Jesus was fully divine and also fully human. His human nature was not spared one ounce of pain.

But many a criminal was crucified on a Roman cross. Thus, there would be nothing unique nor saving about the cross if there had not be something else happening as well. Oh but there was something else going on! Jesus Christ was receiving the full weight of God’s wrath due our sin on Himself. The One who knew no sin became sin for us. In our place and for our sin Christ hung there. The eternity of hell is not enough for the penalty of sin against an infinitely worthy God to be satisfied. But here we see that justice gave the stroke. And the stroke was received in full.

“Ye who think of sin by lightly nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”

Simply put, we don’t value the cross because we do not see the heinous nature of our sin. The cross does not aim at the alleviation of guilt only. The cross did cancel our sin, effectively ransoming us from the wrath of God and guilt of sin. But we also should look at the cross the mourn our sin. The glory of the God is the highest possible joy imaginable. God is a fountain of inexhaustible pleasure and that is why He created a people. God decided to make much of Himself by a people’s gladness in Him. And yet, every single one of us have decided to regard the glory of God as something plain. That which the entire world revolves around has been lied about. We have loved ourselves and our sin, perhaps using God as a means to our own ends.

See here distinguishing nature of your sin. Does it grieve you? The cross was not designed to show us how much we are worth. The cross shows us just how evil and filthy we are – from our very core right on up to our members. As the Puritan once wrote, ’til sin be bitter Christ will not be sweet. In the cross we see the glory and goodness of God portrayed in His white-hot fury over our sin. God’s wrath is tied to His worth. When we downplay sin we rob God the glory due His name and rob ourselves of the transfixing majesty of our salvation.

“Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation, his the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.”

All of this horror was designed by God to purchase our eternal enjoyment of Christ. Here the gospel is put on full display! The paradoxical event shows forth its grand design. Here is where we must run. As ruined sinners, we have never done one deed that was not absolutely detestable in God’s sight. He is blindingly good. Christ’s person and work is the only hope of the world. Faith and repentance is the duty of men. Praise God those two graces were purchased for us too. But we point the world here, upwards to Christ like the brazen serpent that they might behold His glory here and be saved.

None who come to Him will be disappointed. All those who are weary and heavy laden may find their rest here. Guilty has been cleared if we would just dip our robes in His cleansing blood. Believers must build their lives on this truth – that Christ has died in our place purchasing everything needed for our eternal good in Christ. He has redeemed us to show forth His glory. All other ground is nothing but sinking sand.

I hope this hymn has encouraged you. The cross is the substance of Christianity. All of the promises of God have had their yes purchased by Christ. The flood of God’s wrath is sparred His chosen people because of Christ alone. We never grow past this truth. The everlasting hymn of heaven is quite similar to “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” We will spend our eternity seeing and savoring the glory of Christ in the atonement. The One crushed by the Father has made us to stand adopted by His blood. To quote another hymn, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

 

Every Day a Good Friday

I remember walking with my friend Ben along a riverbank in Northwestern Arkansas this time last year. I’d only known him for about 7 months but already he, and a few other guys, had become some of those dearest to me. By God’s grace, I got to see the transforming grace of God through the Word of God in his life. He probably didn’t know, but I was really discouraged at the time (and it wasn’t because of the big snake we were about to see!).

It was Good Friday and we were camping. Our little discipleship group had taken to the woods! My heart was lagging behind my head. What I knew about the sure and finished work of Christ on my behalf was not as sweet to me as it should have been, it was not causing the great comfort and holy fire that it is to produce in those whom God has saved. Just trying to carry on conversation I asked if this Good Friday and Easter meant anything different to him now in light of all that we had learned. What he said to me remains to this day one of the most encouraging things I have ever been told by a brother. He said that, for the first time, he really understood what took place on the cross of Christ.

I was blown away. God had shown him just what it meant that Christ died in his place. He knew the worth and value of God and our heinous sin before Him for failing to value Him as He deserves. He saw the sufficiency of the atonement – as Christ bore the wrath of God deserved for him in his place and positively fulfill the Law as he was required. Ben understood the gospel. This Good Friday, he finally saw what makes Good Friday “good.”

But the beauty of this story is that every day, not just one day out of the year, had become a Good Friday. Every single day of his life has come to be dominated by the person and work of Christ. And by God’s grace, every day from then on to the other side of eternity will be dominated by these realities – the Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom, we are the foremost! It seems that the mass of the redeemed from every tribe, tongue and nation will never tire of the gospel. Forever, we will sing the praises of the Lamb who was slain! His worth will be our highest joy and confidence.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing a day on the bloody death of the Lord of life. We had a beautiful service at Third Avenue Baptist Church this evening. Our pastor proclaimed the sufficiency of Christ and the glory of the gospel. A visible line was drawn around the church in the taking of the Lord’s Supper, allowing us to see just what God hath wrought! Lord willing, in a few days, we celebrate the glorious resurrection of our King and long for our future resurrection together with Him when we will finally enjoy Him fully.

But we don’t reserve this glorious news for next year! Each and every Sunday, indeed each and every day, is Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Praise God that we are not bound by a church calendar! While we can celebrate especially on one day, we get to find our highest end in this message every living second and into eternity.

Christ’s work on the cross was not an end in itself. The facts of the gospel – the atonement, our justification and even our resurrection- bring us to the God of the gospel. These gospel gifts eliminate all obstacles to us seeing and savoring the glory of Christ. Good Friday is for us but only because it is for God. God has made much of Himself by saving sinners from Himself, by Himself and for Himself. God has loved us in that He has given us our greatest pleasure: God Himself.

This makes today and every day a really, really Good Friday.

Why I’m Happy to Disagree with John Piper

Let me put all of my cards on the table. I think that John Piper is the greatest theologian of our time and is perhaps the greatest theologian in church history.You may disagree, but John Piper has been the most formative Bible teacher in my Christian life. I have come to regard him as an able guide to the Scriptures. When I read Piper, I come to know Piper’s God- the Triune God of the Bible. Constantly, Pastor John gets to the ultimate questions, ruthlessly getting to the root of the gospel and sin and, most foundationally, God’s passion for Himself. From the Bible, Piper has gleaned that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in all that Jesus Christ is for us in the gospel. God demands our gladness in Him, Jesus was perfectly glad in His Father and died for our God-belittling sin and conversion is trusting in Christ, turning from sin and seeing Christ as the supreme value of the universe. I learned to love the Bible from Piper, to love holiness from Piper and most importantly to love God as the ultimate “good news” of the gospel. Meeting John Piper was one of the greatest moments of my life and I owe so much to him.

I have come to see some things that we disagree on. And I’m kind of glad about that. It feels and sounds really weird to say. However, coming to these convictions (which I will explain below) across the table from Piper has helped keep my heart in check and my authority structures biblical. It has helped me avoid hero worship for what Piper himself calls “holy emulation.”

I don’t think that John Piper is careful enough with his polity, or the organization of the local church. Polity is what makes the difference between group of Christians and a church. The local church, not random groups of Christians who belong only the universal church, have been vested with the authority to bind and loose on earth by exercising the “keys of the kingdom.” The local church serves as an embassy for the Kingdom of God on earth. Want to know what God is like? Look to the theology and the lives of local churches. These local churches are composed of believers in the Lord Jesus, who have been brought from death to life and have trusted in the finished work of Christ for their eternal salvation. Church members need not be perfect but they absolutely must be repentant. Local churches mark off those who represent Jesus on earth by baptism in the beginning and the Lord’s Supper as they continue in life together as a body trying to reflect the character of God and witness to the gospel of free grace. Church membership and baptism are inextricably linked. Only the baptized should be members of the local church and partaking in the Lord’s Supper, which signifies on-going commitment and identification with Christ and His people.

There are few things I would disagree with Pastor John about with regards to church polity. I really, really don’t like multi-site “churches” (not to make it seem like they aren’t faithful churches, just in reality a lot of smaller churches and not one big one!). However, for the purpose I am trying to illustrate I’m thinking specifically about his position of “open membership.” Praise God that John Piper believes in the absolute necessity of church membership for the Christian. Reconciliation with God through Christ leads to reconciliation with the brothers. Piper also was very careful as to who he would let be a member, restricting church membership only to those who were born again by the Spirit of God. But his position is not quite careful enough. In an attempt to be ecumenical (with good Presbyterian brothers and etc.) Piper posited an “open communion” position. That means he would have no problem allowing someone who was clearly a Christian but not baptized or “baptized” as an infant to come into full membership even though he is opposed to infant baptism himself. Clear as mud? Good. Basically he would allow our Presbyterian brothers to join his church and take communion without being baptized and I think that is wrong. Baptism and church membership cannot be separated and baptism is the doorway into the family meal of the Lord’s Supper.

How big of a deal is this? It’s important. The question, as Bobby Jamieson, has put it the question is somewhere between “What is the gospel?” and “What color is the church carpet?” In other words, it is not essential for salvation or even on the first tier of doctrines like Christian Hedonism, a biblical doctrine of Scripture and the doctrines of grace. We must have a category between essential and not important. This issue is important but it is not essential. This position in no way makes me think less of him (that would take a whole lot) but I do think he is wrong and that it could have a negative affect on his church’s gospel witness.

What’s all this to say? It means that John Piper, and myself for that matter, is not perfect. The best men are still men at best. It is important, even essential, to have heroes in the faith. I hope my Christian life is more like John Piper’s than anyone else. But we follow them as they follow Christ! John Piper, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, John Calvin, you name him, are only as helpful as they are biblical. We look to them as men whom we can see God through. They point us to his word and don’t encourage following them but following Christ through their teaching. I’m happy to disagree with Pastor John. I still listen to him in some fashion, daily. His books are still the most influential and beneficial to my pursuit of joy in God. But Piper makes a poor substitute for Scripture. He makes a horrible Christ. He’d be the first to tell you that! I hope that God would be pleased to use us all in a way that points people past ourselves and upwards to our God that we wrestle to display however feebly.

Louis Love said that his friend gave him this advice and I leave you with it:

“Our responsibility as Christians is not to make much of the theologian but of Christ. The theologian is only helpful insofar as he points us to Christ. Ultimately, my allegiance is to Jesus. I use Edwards, Calvin, Luther, a Brakel, Owen, etc. where he is useful and where he is not useful I put him down.”

Meditation on the Nature of Scripture

This is adapted from an assignment in Systematic 1 where we had to meditate on Psalm 1 and 19, 2 Timothy 3 and 2 Peter 1 and then write down our impressions.

 

————————————————————————

 

The value of Scripture is derived from its Author. God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, has written a Book! How wonderful it is that God uses what is foolish to shame the wise. All Scripture, every bit of it, is breathed-out by God. When we read the Bible we read the very Word of God. This is more profound than my fickle heart often realizes. God’s Word. How am I able to come to a Word such as this with cold indifference or as if it is just another book to be conquered. The Word of God would conquer us! Scripture is profitable (2 Tim 3:16) precisely because it is written by the primary, divine Author; namely, the Holy Spirit.

 

How exactly is it profitable? What about God’s Word enables us to be equipped for the good endeavors planned for us from before the foundation of the world? The other two passages seem to answer this. In showing us what God is really like (not how we have tried to make Him), the Scripture shows the holiness and glory of God in the gospel. God makes us more into His image by allowing us to behold the glory of God in the Word of God (2 Cor 3:18). Practically, this should drive us to our knees every day, in front of God’s Word begging Him to give us light. The Spirit wrote the Bible and so it is only spiritually discerned. I noticed how true this was while meditating on these passages. I can know what they say and mean but completely miss the glory there. My eyes must be enlightened, lifted above my sinful heart and upwards to God in Christ, clothed in the gospel. Our faith rests on the objective truths of this Word. The key to be transformed into the image of Christ is to rightly focus on the biblical Christ. In the Bible we have our only sure guide. The gospel of Jesus comes to us through men carried along by the Holy Spirit so that when they wrote God so superintended the process that the result was God’s very Word. What a miracle! Inspired, inerrant and sufficient. The Bible gives us a surer guide than our experience to point us to God. My eyes have been exceedingly dull this week. How comforting to know that my present circumstance must be defined by what the Bible says is true about reality! I have found myself praying that my eyes would be set on this Word, more sure than eyewitness testimony of the Transfiguration, so that Christ would shine in my heart by the Spirit in the knowledge of His excellency and worth in the events of the gospel.

 

Since God has spoken this Word it is no wonder that it is exceedingly sweet! God has communicated to us for a reason. He would have us happy and holy in Christ. Now justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ, we are comforted and admonished by God’s Word. His statues are sure (leading to holiness) and they are sweet (leading to happiness). This holy-happiness in God results from meditating on the glories of Christ seen only in the Scriptures. I think this is how God makes us complete, able to do every good work. Those satisfied in God are those equipped to spend their lives for the sake of the gospel.

An Outline of Edwards’ “The End For Which God Created the World”

The End For Which God Created the World

 

  • There is a difference between ultimate ends and chief ends.
    • An end may be ultimate but not be a chief end.
  • Subordinate ends are the means of ultimate ends.
    • These are ends which always serve another end.
    • They are not agreeable in themselves.
  • Ultimate ends are those that are sought for their own sake.
    • However, among ultimate ends there are superior ends of chief ends.
  • Chief ends are never valued above their chief end.
    • They are not valued in themselves.
  • Subordinate ends may be equally valued if they are necessary to their ultimate ends.
  • Last ends should be taken as ultimate ends.
    • Ends that are sought for themselves become the one true end of all ultimate ends.
    • God created the world as an ultimate end but the necessary chief end for his creation is His own glory.
  • God’s work are determined by His ultimate end.
    • Whatever God had primarily in mind when He created will dictate what He does in the world.
    • God’s providence is driven by His ultimate desire and end for which He created the world.
  • There can be only one ultimate end of creation that is agreeable in itself.
    • God must have one supreme end for which he creates – an end that all ultimate ends find their source and termination.
  • Reason by itself is a defective guide in determining God’s chief end in creation.
    • We must rely on what God has told us regarding His chief ends.
    • Revelation helps our reason but even sanctified reason is not enough – we need to rely solely on the Bible!
    • Reason can be used to answer objections to a thesis.
  • God’s acting for His own sake is no sign of deficiency in God.
    • God is not dependent on His creation in any way.
    • To say that God needed to create to fulfill Himself is to deny the truth of God’s character.
  • God’s perfections and character cannot be the end for which God created the world.
    • There must be something attained by creation.
    • God’s creation is to accomplish a real end.
  • God’s morality depends on His determination to value what is most valuable and worthy; namely, Himself.
    • God alone is worthy of being His own chief end.
    • God’s glory is worthy of the highest regard from even God Himself.
  • God shows what is most valuable to Himself by His works.
    • God’s works show His highest treasure.
    • God regards Himself highest due to His superior excellence.
  • God is infinite and therefore worth infinite adoration.
    • “God must have all possible regard.”
    • Since God is the supreme good and beauty he must have supreme regard.
  • God’s moral rectitude determines what happens in the universe.
    • God’s wisdom and His perfections determines what is fit.
  • God proposes Himself as the chief end of creation.
    • God values Himself as the ultimate end of creation.
  • What God attained in creation and aimed at in creation is His chief end.
    • God brings everything to pass that He designs.
    • His affecting of all things shows what He values the highest.
  • Many of God’s attributes could not have been exercised had he not created the world.
  • Beings exist to know the excellency of God.
    • If God is going to create beings out of an overflow of His own perfections, they are necessary made to see and savor His majesty.
    • It is not just that people might know God’s excellency but that they might delight in it.
  • God, like a fountain, sends abundant streams.
    • God works ad extra to create the world in order to show forth the glory displayed and enjoyed within the eternal Trinity.
    • God is deposed to overflow.
  • Since God is sufficient, He makes Himself His own end.
    • God delights in Himself and in His attributes.
    • God values Himself and therefore values His expressions of His own glory and worth.
  • In delighting in the effects of His glory, He delights in His being known and enjoyed.
    • God’s desire to be seen and savored is an overflow of His enjoyment of Himself.
    • His disposition to overflow shows His delight in Himself.
  • God’s glory grounds His creation and then He genuinely loves His created beings just not as a chief end.
    • He desires the delight of a people in Himself in order to display His own glory.
  • God’s sharing the knowledge of Himself shows that He is His own chief end.
    • God’s revelation has a particular content; namely, His glory.
  • God shares His happiness and holiness to show His own worth.
    • God gives Himself to the redeemed their highest good that they might show His sufficiency in the world.
    • The redeemed will increase in their knowledge and likeness to God without ever becoming God.
  • Objections:
    • Does this not make God dependent on creation?
      • Man’s happiness and God’s delight in His own glory are two separate ends.
      • God makes much of His sufficiency by saving a people for His glory by the blood of Christ.
      • God’s pleasure in us is really pleasure in Himself.
    • Does this make God selfish?
      • God is supremely valuable and must desire His own glory above all things.
      • God is the happiness of His people. He acts in the truest love to give them the gift of His own self-exaltation.
    • Is it not wrong for God to do things for His own honor and praise?
      • It is an excellent thing for God to delight in Himself above all else.
      • God is holy and holiness is essentially prizing God.
    • Are not creatures less obligated to be thankful to God when He is acting for His own sake?
      • God’s glory and the creature’s good are not at odds.
      • God is good to depart Himself as supreme goodness.
      • God is completely free and nothing outside of Him acts upon Him.
    • Revelation is the only sure guide.
    • Scripture shows that God makes Himself the ultimate end of creation.
      • God is the first and last, the source and end of all things.
    • God does not create to have perfections but from perfections.
      • God overflows but does not gain.
    • God’s ultimate end in providence shows His chief end.
      • His end of all moral agents shows His aim in creation.
      • The end of all goodness in moral agents displays God’s glory.
      • The ultimate end of the saints in their truest frame is the end for which God created the world (especially beautiful notification).
    • God’s acting for Himself is the same as His acting for His glory.
      • God’s moral world is made for the glory of God.
      • God’s ultimate end in His moral creatures is the glory of God.
    • God’s makes it our duty to seek God’s glory as our highest good.
      • “God’s glory is the Alpha and Omega in the prayer.”
      • Saints at their best delight in God’s glory as their highest good.
    • The ultimate end of Christ’s atonement was the glory of God.
      • His great accomplishment on the cross proves the worth of God.
      • Christ’s highest comfort is that the Father will receive the honor due His name.
      • The ultimate end of redemption is the glory of God.
    • God’s wrath and mercy show forth His glory.
    • God made creatures to make His perfections known.
      • God’s name is the highest good of Himself and His people.
      • Salvation is for God’s namesake.
      • The happiness of God’s redeemed serves the end of God’s name.
    • The Bible speaks of God’s excellency and greatness as His ultimate end in creation.
      • God’s glory is peculiarly shown in His grace towards ruined sinners.
    • God’s praise is the ultimate end of creation.
      • Praise is the ultimate motivation for redemption.
    • God’s grace is pleasing to God in itself while His justice serves another end.
      • Salvation and damnation are disproportionate.
    • The entire cosmos is being governed for the certain good of God’s people.
      • God’s name is tied to the happiness of His people and so He works all things for their good: His glory.
    • What is meant by God’s glory?
      • God’s internal glory is His intrinsic value and worth, His beauty and holiness.
      • God’s external glory is the going public of His internal perfections that is seen and enjoyed.
        • God’s glory is also seen in its emanations. The suns beams belong to the sun.
      • God would have His glory known.
        • Honor implies knowledge. God can only be honored if He is truly known.
        • Glory implies praise, enjoyment and treasuring.
      • God’s external glory is reflected in two faculties: knowing and willing.
        • God desires and demands to be seen but also savored.
      • God is the beginning, middle and end of all things – including Himself.
      • God’s commitment to Himself means that He is committed to the joy of His creatures.
        • God is most glorified (shown to be worthy and valuable) when we are most satisfied in Him (treated as most worthy).
        • God has tied His glory to His people’s joy in His Son.
      • Heaven is God-centered.
        • In glory, men will know God perfectly but not exhaustively.
        • Man will continue to revel in the glories of Jesus Christ forever and ever.
        • God will be shown to be the supreme treasure of the universe in the eternal, inextinguishable worship of His people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Love People Most When We Love God More

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.” (1 John 5:1-2)

How do we love people best? The Bible tells us that we really love our brothers and sisters if we love God and love to live a holy life before, just as He is holy. That is the argument of 1 John 5:2. John has been writing to give these Christians assurance that they are in Christ. Far from preaching a gospel of works, John gives evidences that one has already by justified by faith in Jesus Christ, the righteous advocate (1 John 2:1). These include three major tests: a “moral test” (do I obey God’s commands), a “theological test” (do I believe in the Christ of the Scriptures) and a “social test” (do I love the brothers).

In this passage, John says that those who have been born again love those who have been born again. Nonbelievers do not enjoy hanging out with believers in the same way that Christians enjoy each other’s company. The Christian and the nonChristian are dominated by two different realities. The Christian is automatically drawn to those who have the same righteousness, the same boss and the same supreme satisfaction. We can have confidence that we have been saved if we love other Christians. This, to make a quick caveat, is primarily manifested in the local church. We aren’t simply called to love all Christians everywhere (though that is to be true as well) but a local people in particular. We participate in the life of the church, under the authority of the elders and congregation, sitting under the Word of God and reflecting the character of God. So when John writes about loving those who have been born again, it is almost certainly that he would have us think about those with whom we have covenanted with as a local embassy of God’s kingdom.

The Holy Spirit, writing through John, throws us a curveball. Verse 2 begins with the phrase, “by this we know we love the children of God.” So the argument so far has been that if we are really Christians then we will love other Christians. Now, the argument continues and says that there is a criteria that proves if we love our brothers and sisters, particularly those in our local church. This seems strange to us at first. We know we love people, we think, just because we do. We never think of how we know that we are really loving someone.

God is love (1 John 4:16). Therefore, God also defines love. All of us have decided to enjoy a certain type of God’s love. I used to appeal to God’s love to approve of sin and to continue in rebellion against Him. But “love” in the abstract may not be what God means by love. God’s love is shown in sending Christ to die for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). God gives the love that we desperately need, but not the one that fallen man desires. God loves in a way that rids us of our greatest problem and gives us our highest joy: God Himself. So love must be defined biblically and in light of who God is.

John says that our love for the brothers is proven by our love for God and a desire to live a life that commends the gospel of Christ. These two things are the “by this” that the beginning of verse 2 begins with. We love Christians when we love God and love holiness. The greatest good we can give to our friends is our satisfaction in God. The more we are caught up in God the better our relationships will be. Our fellowship will be more focused and direct. Their faith will be encouraged more. When God is the center of our world, we are removed from that spot and this makes our relationships fruitful. This severs the nerve of rivalry, envy and strife. The works of the flesh are not able to gain as much of a hold in our hearts when God is seen and savored.

When we see and the savor the glory of God, we must be transformed. We are changed by beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel. The gospel produces a holy people. Regeneration, being born again, is primarily a change in affections. What we love changes, as does what we hate. Instead of being alive to sin and dead to God, we are now alive to God and dead to sin. This changes everything about how we live. Our lives are now centered around knowing God and enjoying Him to the praise of His glorious grace. We have been plunged into a fight to see God as He is. This entails the killing of sin that threatens to blind us and the putting on virtue to help us see more clearly. We fight to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). So how does our personal holiness help us to love God? The more active we are in killing sin the more helpful we will be to our brothers and sisters. This is for several reasons. First, when we are not taking steps to kill sin we will be more unable (or unwilling) to love of brothers. Sin turns us inward, making satisfaction in ourselves a higher good that satisfaction in Christ. Second, our holiness will often “rub off” on others. It is easier to be holy around holy people. Finally, our holiness shows the surpassing worth of Christ. Our holiness, as imperfect as it will be on this side of glory, shows that Christ is better than the sin to which we once belonged. Our obedience helps others to be more happy in God.

Do you want to love others? Love God more. It is not until we are enthralled with the majestic splendor of God that we can really help others. May we be so heavenly-minded that we might finally be of some earthly good. All of this only comes by the gracious gift of the new birth, caused by the hearing of the good news of free grace concerning the cross of Jesus Christ.

 

The Theme of the Nations and Explicit Faith in Christ

These are two different responses I wrote for a class on missions. The first looks briefy at how the theme of the nations drives throughout the Bible. The second answers the question, “Is it necessary for someone to hear the gospel to get saved?” I hope both are an encouragement to you!

God’s Pursuit of the Nations’ Gladness in Him

God’s plan for the nations begins as early as Genesis 1:1. The self-sufficient God, who exists eternally in the Godhead, decided to create out of the overflow of His satisfaction in Himself. From the beginning, the purpose of this creation was the reflection of His character and the worship of His glory. The Fall introduces a perversion of God’s design for mankind and sin enters, pervasively into mankind. Genesis 10 gives the “table of nations,” leading into the Tower of Babel narrative in Genesis 12. Human sin has lead to a type of punishment by diversity, God created many tongues as a result of their attempt to become God. Genesis 12:1-9 shows God’s sovereign plan to turn the evil of Babel into a display of His own glory. He covenants with Abraham to make a people for Himself from the offspring of Abraham. Through this line, the the nations will be blessed. 

Exodus sees the forming of the nation of Israel. God has his mind set on two horizons, to quote Zane Pratt. The giving of the Law distinguishes Israel as God’s redeemed people who are to be holy as their God is holy. This distinct people, however, has its eyes on the nations as well. The Law had benefits for the Gentile and the stranger built in. Israel was redeemed to show the worth of God among unworthy sinners to the nations. Deuteronomy gives us a “come and see” mission strategy. 

The prophets build even more on God’s plan for the nations. They see the widening of God’s soteriological blessing coming with the Day of the Lord. Joel prophesies in Joel 2:28-29 that the Spirit of God will be poured out on “all flesh.” Habbakuk proclaims in Habbakuk 2:14 that the knowledge of God’s glory would be as extensive as the waters cover the sea. God speaks through Zephaniah saying that He will one day turn the nations’ sinful lips into “pure speech,” that which utters praises to the Holy One of Israel. 

The Psalms also speak to God’s intention to save a people from all the nations. In Psalm 2:12, the Davidic King is shown to be far more than a tribal deity. He is the ruler of all flesh, not just Israel! Psalm 47 commands the peoples to shout praises to the God of the universe. Psalm 67 petitions God to let the nations be glad in Him and Him alone, to be satisfied in His holiness as their highest good and pleasure. 

This sets the stage for the New Testament and the coming of Christ. Matthew’s genealogy includes Rahab and Tamar, two gentile women.  Early on in all of the gospels, we see Gentiles being among those who come in faith to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. The woman at the well (John 4:7) and Centurion are both examples of Gentiles who saw the glory of Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the earth. The Pharisess sought their righteousness in part by their having Abraham as their father. But Jesus says that children of Abraham can be made out of nothing, pointing to the fact that being a child of Abraham was a matter of being born again believers in the person and work of Christ. The gospel of Matthew ends with the “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus’ parting words to His disciples was for them to testify to the gospel of free grace, making disciples of “all nations.” 

The book of Acts shows the spread of this gospel to the nations. The disciples are promised the coming Spirit in Acts 1:8. Pentecost comes in Acts 2 and sinful men are made able to worship God in their hearts and with their members just like Joel promised years before. Acts 8 chronicles Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. The gospel is spreading all over despite intense persecution (Acts 8:1). The church’s main threat is made its greatest earthen vessel when Paul is brought to saving faith in Acts 9. Free from sin and self, Paul makes it his life’s work to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles. 

Paul picks this theme up in his letters. Just one example is the entire book of Romans. Paul makes it clear that it is his hope to travel as far west as Spain so that he can proclaim the gospel there (Romans 15:20-33). The masterful letter to the Romans may well be the first missionary support letter! 

The biblical theme of the nations comes to a head in Revelation 5 and 7. One day, a people will assembly around the throne of God, those who have been ransomed from God and to God, a people whose white-hot worship will endure for all eternity. And this people is a people made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. The effects of Babel have been made to serve the purpose of the Sovereign Lord. Eternity with Christ will not be theological diverse but it will be ethnically diverse – comprised of people made new by the good news of how a holy God saves unholy sinners. 

Does Everyone Have to Hear the Gospel to Be Saved?

Explicit faith in the person and work of Christ is absolutely essential to salvation. Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” and “no one comes to the Father except” through Him (John 14:6-7). The problem of sin and God’s wrath towards our sin is a real objective problem. To be saved is to have this real problem dealt with on our behalf. All of God’s promises are “yes and amen” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:12). There is only one name under heaven by which we may be saved and that is the name of Jesus Christ, who came in history to reconcile us to the Father by His penal, subsitutionary death on the cross.

Paul eliminates any doubt about the need for explicit saving faith in Christ in Romans 10. For the last 9 chapters, Paul had been saying out His glorious gospel. All men are rebels, haters of the glory of God. This has resulted in the just wrath of God. Christ has come to fulfill the Law on our behalf and to take the curse of the Law that we deserved from the Father. His resurrection for our justification proves that His work was sufficient and accepted by the Father on our behalf. The Spirit is in the business of applying what the Father planned and the Son accomplished. Romans 10:13 says that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Salvation only comes by conversion, turning away from sin towards superior joy in Christ and resting in His work for our right standing before God. This cannot happen if they don’t hear because faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (10:17). People cannot be saved by a message they have never heard, and they will never hear if no one preaches to them (10:14-16). The world will perish for their unbelief and rebellion. Taking the gospel to them is the only way for them to see and savor Christ clothed in the gospel. As David Platt puts it, “There is no plan B.”

Quickly, there is a larger issue in this question. If one says that explicit faith in Christ is not necessary to be saved then they have missed the entire essence of salvation. God saves sinners because He loves them but that is only penultimate in His plan. God loves us most by enjoying Himself, exalting Himself. God has chosen to satisfy a people with and that He is for them in Christ to show that He only is holy and worthy of praise. Salvation, then, has its final end in the glory of God. Salvation meets a real need, even if that need is not yet felt. We need to treasure Christ above all things. We have not but Christ did for us. Now that we are born again, the Spirit’s work continues to be the glorification of Christ (John 16:14). Explicit faith in Christ is necessary because the enjoyment of Christ to the praise of God’s glory is the highest goal of salvation. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son whom He sent (John 17:25). Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 16:35) and He only can satisfy the hearts of men. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. This is the chief reason that hearing the gospel of what God has done in Christ to save sinners must happen if anyone is to be saved. A Christ that is not named cannot be known or treasured! May the nations be glad in Him alone!

 

A Global God

This will be part one of a four part series looking at the global purposes of the God of the Bible. This God, it is worth noting, is not just one God among others. He is not the “greatest among equals.” He is the only God – existing eternally in three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The foundation of every true thought, every real perception of reality begins with God. Let’s look at some attributes of God that show Him to be utter unique.

A God Who Creates Out of Nothing, Including Lack

How did the world begin? God created it. In the beginning…God. God has always existed was never created. Everything that came after God becomes distinct from Him. The heavens and the earths did not exist and then, all the sudden, they did. From nothing, God created everything.

Why, though? We must remember that God did not create because He was lacking. The eternally blessed God was not lonely! Remember that this God is a Triune God. He has existed eternally, satisfied with Himself in the fellowship of the Godhead. Since God is God, He does not need. Paul says in Acts 17 that God is not served by human hands. This sets the God of the Bible apart from every other so-called “god” that we create for ourselves. He exists apart from us. Friend, do you realize that it does not matter if we think God exists or not? It does not affect Him in the slightest. God’s origin and self-existence does not depend on the opinion of man. He does not draw life from us; instead, our lives are completely dependent on Him.

Since God has created everything, He has the right to demand what He wants from His creation. We are the work of His hands. Everyone, from white Americans to Arab Muslims, are accountable to Him and Him alone.

God Defines God

God has revealed Himself. This is a huge point. As we’ll see in the next post, man has attempted to create gods in our own image that look much more like bigger and better versions of us, a god that is much easier to manage and please in our sin. But God is not up for debate. Every once of knowledge about Him must be derived from Him. Since He has created everything, He is the source of all truth.

God has revealed Himself as the “I AM.” Notice He does not say, “I Might Be” or “I Am Who You Think I Am.” This is because God has not left it up to us to determine just who God is. Do you think that God is like your grandpa? He’s not. Do you think God exists to give your anything you want? He doesn’t. Do you think God is an impersonal will, one who doesn’t care and isn’t working in the world? Too bad. I don’t get to make God and neither do you. That is because God is God. We need His written Word to know Him in any redemptive way.

Jesus is God (John 1:1). Nothing that was made was made without Him (Colossians 1:16). Jesus did not come into being. He is equally God, existing from eternity past as the second Person of the Godhead. Any attempt to make Jesus less is to engage in blatant idolatry. This takes many forms. Muslims have created their own god by denying that Jesus was the unique Son of God that died for the sins of His people. Nominal Christians have created their own god by using Jesus as little more than a symbol of moral life, used to get a better standing in society. But, Jesus is God. Any concept of God that is anti-Christ, anti-Trinitarian, is not just another God. It is a false god. We’ll soon see that we have all attempt such treason.

Holy-Love

God is a holy God that loves. His love is eternal and not based on what He does to His creatures. This means that God is not love because He saves sinners. Since God is love therefore He saves sinners! God’s very character is love. First love for Himself as the highest good of the universe and second, astoudingly, He loves His people.

God is love (1 John 4:7-8). But love is not God. RC Sproul points out that God is never praised by angels who shout, “Love, love, love.” But in Isaiah 6 we see the eternal hymn reading, “holy, holy, holy.” God’s holiness refers to His utter uniqueness and perfection. God is not an even better man, but is completely other. He alone is holy! God’s holiness refers to His intrinsic value. God in His infinite perfections is the most beautiful being in the cosmos. In Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

God is Glorious

God’s glory is His holiness put on display. God’s glory, as Vos so aptly put it, is the revelation of the perfections of God outwardly like a brilliant light. God’s holiness refers to His commitment to Himself as the best good and highest beauty. His glory is the going public of that beauty! It is the revelation that God is worthy of all worship and enjoyment. This is the end for which God created the world: the display of His glory for the praise of all men through the gospel.

What does this have to do with missions?

We’ll see that this sets the stage for God’s demand of worship from the nations. Only God is worthy, and when His worth is slighted, His wrath comes forth. Does hell seem unjust? It is only because we don’t know Him! God’s glory demands the affections of all creation. Indeed, being created in the image of this God means that our end is to display His glory and character.

All nations must worship this God. It doesn’t matter if you have ever heard the gospel or not. It doesn’t matter if you are white or black, Jew or Greek, Muslim or Methodist. God is worthy of all praise. God is the owner of each and every one of us. This is the foundation of the biblical worldview. Anything else, everything that we humans have concocted in our blindness, is wrong. God is the determiner of reality. We are just living in it. And God’s reality presents a demand on our lives. We must enjoy this God as He does, because only He is worth enjoying. God is the creator. God is holy and loving. God is infinitely glorious. God is God.