What Christ has united…

10 Oct

I am happy to be part of a local church filled with people from many different countries and cultures.

I guess, more than that really, I am so happy to be part of a local church where people from different countries and cultures are learning to sincerely love God and one another. For one thing, it has had so many practical spiritual benefits in my life. I am a different person because of the friendships I have developed within my church. Take those relationships away, subtract what I have learned, and I am not sure, I’d really like who I would be.

This distinction between simply being filled with people of different cultures and developing deep biblical unity and friendships within a local church is important, especially as we talk about multi-ethnic churches.

I like how Jarvis Williams puts it,

“…evangelicals can confuse racial reconciliation with multi-ethnicity or diversity, and so they begin conversations about racial reconciliation with a push for multi-ethnic churches.

I agree that gospel-grounded racial reconciliation produces multi-ethnic and diverse churches.

But diversity is not the same as gospel-centered racial reconciliation and the goal of gospel-centered racial reconciliation is not simply diversity. An assembly of the United Nations is multi-ethnic and diverse, as is the army, or the local public high school, or so many other groups. Yet such settings hardly enjoy the racial reconciliation of the gospel.

Gospel-grounded racial reconciliation begins with what Christ accomplished at the cross. He united one-time enemies to God and therefore to one another. He made the two one. Racial reconciliation begins, in other words, with the “indicative” of who we are in Christ. And then racial reconciliation shows itself in our love for the “other.”

It flows from the Spirit-empowered obedience and demonstration of who we are in Christ.

To define racial reconciliation as simply diversity, or to think that our churches are racially reconciled simply because they might be diverse, is misleading.”

In other words, as far as I understand what he’s saying, we shouldn’t start talking about this issue the way the world does. “Oh, we just need to have a lot of different people from different backgrounds in here.” I guess that sometimes how people hear it. Instead, we have to start instead with the gospel. What has God has done in Christ and what difference does that make on the way we relate to one another and think about church?

If I am living in an area where there are many people who are different than me and I am not pursuing friendships with people who are different than me, why? Is there something I am missing in my understanding of what God’s accomplished in the gospel?

In his article, Racial Reconciliation, the Gospel and the Church, he writes,

“In order to understand what biblical racial reconciliation is and what it means for the church, Christians, first of all, need a better understanding of the relationship between the gospel and racial reconciliation. Let’s just consider Ephesians 2 and 3 for a moment.

The mystery of the gospel is an important theme in Ephesians (1:9-10). Paul defines this mystery as the unification of all things in Christ (1:10) and “the gospel of your salvation” (1:13). Chapter 2 then begins by recalling the fact that we are all dead in our sins and separated from God (vv. 1-3). “But God,” verse 4 famously begins, makes us alive in Christ and saves us by grace, say the following verses. Based on Ephesians 2:1-10, evangelicals often define the gospel with reference to our reconciliation to God (see esp. Eph. 2:1-10).

Yet that’s not all God does in the gospel.

Paul goes on to say that the gospel includes the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles into one new humanity. Verse 13 begins with a second sharp adversative: “But now,” Paul says, and then points to something else Christ has already accomplished: those Gentiles “who were far away have been brought near.” They were brought near God’s promises of salvation to Jews “by the blood of Christ Jesus” (2:13).1

The good news of the gospel includes the fact that the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died so that he would put an end to the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, to reconcile Jews and Gentiles to God, and to each other into one body through the cross, which made both groups into one dwelling place of God by the Spirit (2:14-22). And Jesus himself preached this gospel of peace (=reconciliation) to Jews near the promises and to Gentiles far away from those promises (Matt 15:21-28).

In chapter 3, Paul refers to the stewardship of the grace of God given to Paul (v. 2). He describes that stewardship as a mystery that was made known to Paul by a revelation, and that mystery is the mystery of Christ as revealed to Paul by the Spirit (vv. 3-5). He explicitly states the content of the mystery is Jew and Gentile inclusion as “fellow heirs” and “of the same body” because together they are “partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel” (v. 6). And he connects reconciliation between Jew and Gentile to the gospel by stating that God graciously called Paul to proclaim as good news the inexpressible riches of Christ to the Gentiles (v. 8).

It would not be exegetically accurate to say that Ephesians 2:11-3:8 are “about racial reconciliation,” at least in the way we think of those terms today. The ancient division between Jew and Gentile was not the same as the divisions we know exist between Black and White or Serbian and Croatian or Hutu and Tutsi or Japanese and Chinese. The division between Jew and Gentile was God’s own doing according to his covenantal plan, and Ephesians 2 and 3 dwell on the fulfillment of that covenantal plan.

But certainly we must say that a lesson or an implication of Ephesians 2:11-3:8 is that Christ united Christians of every ethnicity together. He removed ethnicity as a barrier. The good news of the gospel, in that sense, includes racial reconciliation. Christ did it! He reconciled us both to the Father and to one another!”

A Particularly Blinding and Deadly Kind of Sin

7 Oct

Every sin is serious.

It seems however certain sins have a particular tendency to lead people towards eternal destruction while blinding them regarding where they are headed.

Like, for example, the sins of sexual impurity and lust.

In Ephesians 5:5 and 6, Paul writes, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

For me, two things stand out as I look at that. First the way Paul stresses that those who engage in unrepentant sexual sin will not go to heaven and will instead face the wrath of God. And then second, the fact he is concerned we will be deceived about that.

Other Scriptures make this same kind kind of connection as well.

For example, Solomon speaks of the danger of sexual immorality in Proverbs 7:22. “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast, till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know it will cost him his life.”

There’s a kind of stupid “animalish” blindness associated with these kinds of sins. And perhaps it’s because of this that God often puts the fact he is going to judge these kinds of sins in bold print.

Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

2 Peter 2:9,10, “The Lord knows how to…keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.”

In fact, to help us understand how seriously God takes these kinds of sins he even has given us examples of his judgment all throughout history.

Like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jude 4, “…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

And Israel, as well.

1 Corinthians 10:8, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty three thousand fell in a single day…These things happened to them as an example…”

Unfortunately, they didn’t learn from this judgment and years later, we discover this is one of the reasons they went into exile.

Jeremiah 5:7,8, “How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. They were well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife. Shall I not punish them for these things, declares the Lord; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”

These are exclamation points throughout biblical history. But the fact is, most of us have these kinds of exclamation points throughout our own personal histories. Who hasn’t firsthand seen the way sexual sins have devastated families, sometimes for generations?

And yet, even seeing all of that, for some of us, it’s like those things never happened! Imagine standing with someone on the edge of a cliff, watching them take a step and fall to their death, then moments later, forgetting what had happened and doing so yourself! Crazy? Impossible?

Not when it comes to sexual sin.

It happens all the time.

And in my mind, these are all good reasons for us to seriously fear sexual temptation and to develop friendships with people with whom we can share our real struggles and who will help us remember the truth. Our eternal life may depend on it!

Worms Reaching for the Stars

1 Oct

“God is higher above the reach of the greatest and wisest thoughts of the greatest and wisest men than the stars are above the reach of the least worm that crawls on the ground. If a worm could somehow stretch himself out to his utmost how far away he would still be from the stars, and yet still, he would be closer to reaching those stars than the greatest and wisest men are to fully comprehending the infinite majesty and glory of God.”

Jonathan Edwards

They will stare you in the face…

29 Sep

Sometimes people minimize the seriousness of their sins by imagining that God doesn’t really notice what they are doing or that He won’t remember.

This is madness.

When it comes time for judgment, God won’t miss any sinner. He won’t overlook any sin. And He won’t compromise any judgment. Every sin that every sinner has committed must be punished and it must be punished exactly as it deserves. God loves His glory too much to overlook sin. He is too holy not to hate it. He is too serious about His role as King not to punish sin. And He is too honest not to deal with sin exactly the way He said He would.

Just because you can’t remember your sins doesn’t mean God won’t. Just because you don’t take the bad things you have done seriously doesn’t mean God won’t.

As Jonathan Edwards once wrote,

“How can you be so unreasonable as to imagine that the Great Jehovah will have so little regard to His own majesty and authority that He could see you continuing in such daring contempt of him without executing his wrath upon you? Do you think He has no regard to it when he sees his commands and threatenings so despised or that He stands and looks on without being provoked by it?

How dreadful that fire is which is kindled in His anger by your iniquity and how fearfully He will one day vindicate His majesty and get Himself honor and a great name by His vengeance upon such rebels. You may be assured that God takes good notice of it. No matter how you try to hide your sins, though they be hidden from the eyes of men and are taken little notice of by them, God will remember them.

It would be an easier thing to put out the sun and stars than to blot out God’s remembrance of your sins or alter his purpose of punishing fully every one of them. There is a day coming when those iniquities of yours will find you out and when they shall all stand in order before your eyes. They will stare you in the face and shall be made public before men and angels by the sentence of the judge upon you for them and open revenges of your angry judge unless you escape God’s wrath through timely repentance.”

What if God was actually God?

28 Sep

God is frightening.

There are many things about God that are frightening. He has unstoppable power. If He wants, He can save someone or destroy someone in a moment. He is absolutely holy. There is no one in the universe who hates evil more than He does. His justice is absolute. He will never compromise when it comes to punishing sin exactly the way it ought to be punished. His sovereignty is supreme. He has the complete right to do with His creatures whatever He wants.

One of the words we use to describe God is awesome.

But for some reason that word doesn’t seem to carry the weight it used to. A word Jonathan Edwards used in its place to describe God is terrible. “God is terrible both to good and bad of his creatures in a very different manner.” By terrible, I think he means terror producing. In the godly, this terror is really better spoken of as reverence. It’s an awe and dread that’s filled with joy and without really the least bit of worrying about pain or punishment. Whereas for the ungodly, it’s terror as we normally think of it. Or at least it will be when they see God for who He really is. Horror, amazement, a terrifying realization of what is to come.

I am afraid sometimes we are not afraid enough. Our lack of fear causes me to fear that we may not be seeing God for who He really is.

The fact is if we just look closely at the truths about God we are comfortable with, we’ll see even those truths are worth trembling over.

For example, God is love.

Hardly anybody wants to argue with that. But think about the way the Bible tells us He has shown His love. Even the way He shows mercy should produce fear. Obviously God shows mercy to produce joy in those whom He rescues. But, if we look more closely at the way He goes about giving these blessings to those who are undeserving, we’ll see how awesome those works really are.

We can start with the way He saved us. As we look at the sufferings of Christ, we often do so with joy, because we know what those sufferings mean for us. But this same work that produces such joy in our hearts and such blessings for us was an act of ‘strict justice and terror with respect to our mediator.’ God didn’t just grant us forgiveness. He punished sin so that we can be forgiven. And the way He punished sin was by pouring out His wrath on His very own son. We see what an awesome God God is when we reflect on the fact that He takes sin so seriously that He could not forgive us without punishing someone as important and beautiful as Jesus in our place for what we did.

Or maybe we can look forward to the way He will save us. We know that when Jesus returns He’s bringing grace for those who trust in Him. But, at the same time, He’s bringing judgment on those who don’t. As Paul puts it, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God.” One reason heaven is going to be such a beautiful place for God’s people is because of the way in which God poured out His judgment on those who aren’t. Even Satan! We think about how evil he is and all the wicked things he’s done, and we look forward to the day in which God punishes him. But what a terrible judgment it will be. Mercy for us, but complete and utter devastation for him!

Now here’s the thing.

If looking at God’s love is terror producing, thinking more carefully about His wrath is even more intense.

And this of course is where most unbelievers start really getting mad. While we might get away with talking about God’s love, if we plainly state some of what the Bible says about God and how He punishes sin, there are many unbelievers who would hate us as a result.

Fear sometimes produces anger, I suppose.

Because it’s not really that they have a problem with punishing sin. After all, they are punishing other people’s sin all the time. It’s not that they have a problem with someone being right. That’s why they are so upset with you, isn’t it? They think they are right and they want you to know it. And it’s not that they have a problem with someone having laws that must be obeyed. They live in countries that set up laws and they are happy about that. It’s not even that they have a problem with something belonging to someone and that person having the right to do with it what they want. I mean, try to take something that belongs to them and see what happens.

It’s that they want to be that person.

That’s the issue.

And it’s very frightening for them when they recognize they are not the ones in charge of the universe.

You see, what the Bible says about God is fear-producing, that’s true but it is also beautiful. These statements about God’s wrath and judgment are not statements that should cause us to be ashamed of Him. Even His terrifying works glorify Him. They show He is just. They show He tells the truth. They make His mercy appear more precious. The reason those terrifying works are so ugly to the unbeliever is not because they are ugly in and of themselves, but because they strike at the unbeliever’s most fundamental desire, and that is, to be his own king.

As long as you are trying to be God, what the Scripture says about God, will produce absolute terror in your heart. If you are still trying to be God and what you have learned about God hasn’t produced that, then maybe you haven’t really heard what the Bible actually says about Him!

It is only once you give up on being God and recognize there’s only One person in the universe who deserves that role, that these very same statements become something beautiful and lovely in your sight.

The fact that God is actually God causes you not only to tremble, but to rejoice.

A God of Infinite Mercy

23 Sep

I watched a video this morning with a couple of ladies talking about selling the body parts of babies for profit and it broke my heart.

One of the reasons it broke my heart is because it reminded me of just how sinful we are as human beings.

I don’t feel superior to them. Far from it. I am glad of course that God’s graced me to see this as awful, but I know, apart from God’s work in my heart, I am capable of speaking and acting like this and I am sure far worse. It’s nice to pretend as if we were sweet, good people, but while we might be able to put a nice face on it, underneath, our hearts are filled with all kinds of corruption and that corruption is really, truly, sincerely, nasty.

There’s no way around it. Sin is a great evil.

Not only because it causes us to hurt others, but fundamentally because it is against God. That is what’s difficult sometimes for my heart to see, but it’s a reality. I can rage when I see the way sin causes people to murder babies, but do I realize that each and every sin is against a holy and beautiful God, and because of that each and every sin is infinitely ugly and hateful and disgusting.

As Jonathan Edwards once wrote, “Sin deserves infinite ill because it is a hatred of a being infinitely lovely. The hating of that which is lovely is heinous in proportion to the loveliness of the thing hated.”

I can’t imagine the kind of guilt I would feel if I somehow participated in the murder of a child, and rightfully so! but in reality I have done  something even worse. I have robbed God of what He has an absolute right to. I have spit in the face of pure beauty.

It’s hard to hear that.

But it’s important because it puts God’s mercy on display. God doesn’t owe us anything. He’s God. We are his humans. If I were somehow pure and He gave me anything that would be an act of goodness. But, I need more than goodness, because of the way I have sinned. I need mercy. I need God to show kindness to me even though I don’t deserve it, by delivering me from the very misery I have brought on myself through my rebellion against Him and by giving him blessings I could never earn through my own efforts.

And He does.

And one of the things that makes his mercy so remarkable is that he shows it to people like me, who have done all sorts of different sins. His mercy is not limited by my sin. In other words, He doesn’t only show mercy to one kind of sinner. If someone somehow had just sinned one time, and God showed them mercy, that would be amazing, that would be astounding. As Edwards writes, “If the mercy of God were only sufficient to extend itself to someone who had never committed more than one sin that would demonstrate his mercy to be infinitely great…but tis not only so, but his mercy is sufficient for the greatest sinner there is. No degree of sinfulness puts any person beyond the extent of God the mercy of God.”

In other words, God’s willing to extend His mercy to all kinds of sinners.

Even the kind that sell baby body parts for profit.

And this is part of what makes a refusal to repent, embrace the promise of the gospel, and run to Jesus Christ such a horrible thing.

Because, look, we have sinned in big ways and we deserve God’s punishment, but here He comes and He says, I am merciful, and He has showed mercy by sending His Son who stooped so low “as to take our nature and not only so but to suffer pain and shame, torment and death, and the wrath of God for ourselves, and through him is free pardon for all our sins offered to us and a bestowment of boundless good and all this is offered freely without money or price only for our heartily closing with the offer and accepting of it in that excellent and glorious way God has planned.

But yet how many are there that refuse the offer because they choose to go on with their sins still! They love their sins and they will not part with them. And so they continue under the curse of the law and lie still exposed to those eternal mischiefs which sin deserves.

How inexcusable will such be!”

Their refusal of God’s infinite mercy will cry out against them for God’s infinite Judgment.

God’s love for us is much better than our love for God

22 Sep

Problems come in all shapes and sizes.

At the root however, most problems look alike. We are thinking of God as smaller than He is and ourselves as bigger than we are.

It is just so tempting!

If God’s not God in our minds and hearts, we can’t get anything right. And if the God we are worshiping isn’t far superior to us, we aren’t really worshiping the one true God.

Take the way He loves as just one example.

Just think about how much better His love for us is in comparison to our love for Him.*

1.) Our ability to love God comes from God. In other words, we would not love God if He had not first loved us and actually given us a willingness and desire to love Him. He has to create the ability to love and then teach us how to love Him. His love for us comes from Himself. No one needs to make God able to love us and no one needs to tell Him how to love us. He just loves.

2.) We love God because God is lovely. God doesn’t love us because of something excellent in us. We have so marred the image of God through our sin and rebellion there is nothing lovely in us apart from God.

3.) God is worthy of much more love than we can give Him. We can’t even come close to deserving all the love that God gives to us. He is beautiful and the sight of God draws us to love Him. If God looked at us by ourselves, He would see sin and shame, and in order to love us, He has to look beyond our sin and rebellion and simply love us as an expression of His mercy and grace.

4.) We love God because He showed love to us. He loves us even though all we showed was hatred towards Him. 

5.) Our love for God is going to result in eternal rewards. We have good reasons to love God. We can expect that He is going to give the crown of life to those who love Him, that He will work all things for good for those who love Him. But God loves us without any expectation of us benefiting Him in any way. How could we really when we have nothing God needs?

6.) When we love God it’s because we see God as the source of our happiness and as our chief good. We know that God’s the only one who can truly and fully satisfy us. To reverse this would be heresy. God does not love us because we are somehow His chief good! God is God’s chief good! As Jonathan Edwards has written, “God loves us without any expectation of anything from us to reward Him for He cannot be rewarded, being infinitely happy in Himself.”

*Thoughts drawn from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards, “God is a Being Possessed of the Most Absolutely Perfect Happiness.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,393 other followers