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Introduction to Acts

Introduction to Acts

I had the privilege of writing the notes on Acts for the Gospel Transformation Bible, which features all-new book introductions and gospel-illuminating  notes written to help readers see Christ in all of Scripture and grace for all of life.

Below is the introduction I wrote, which is included in the free sample. You can find out more here and get a copy here.


 

Author and Date

Acts is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Both were written by Luke, a physi- cian who traveled with the apostle Paul. Acts ends with Paul under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar, c. a.d. 62. Many scholars assume Acts was written then because it does not record Paul’s defense, release, and further gospel preaching. Luke’s purpose for writing his Gospel (see Luke 1:3–4) applies to Acts as well: to give an “orderly” account of the early church after Christ’s resurrection.

The Gospel in Acts

Acts is the story of God’s grace flooding out to the world, from the cross and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Nothing is more prominent in Acts than the spread of the gospel. Jesus promises a geographic expansion at the outset (1:8), and Acts follows the news of his death and resurrection as it spreads from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the faraway capital of Rome.

The preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection is central in Acts. The Greek verb for “preach the gospel” (euangelizo) occurs more in this book than in any other in the New Testament. About a third of the book of Acts consists of speeches, and most of these are speeches of Peter or Paul proclaiming the gospel. The good news of the salvation accomplished in Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit extends to the “ends of the earth” through preaching.

In Acts, “grace” is a parallel for “the gospel” or “salvation.” Jesus’ message is summarized as “the word of his grace” (20:32), believers are said to have received “grace” or to be “full of grace” (6:8), and they are challenged to continue in grace. The missionaries in Acts proclaim the grace of God, and it is through this grace that people are able to respond with faith.

Acts reveals God’s passionate pursuit of his people, beginning with his followers in Jerusalem, expanding to Samaria, then to the rest of the world. By the end of the book we see Paul living in Rome, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all bold- ness and without hindrance” (28:31). The gospel draws people in, consti- tutes them as the church centered on the grace of Jesus, and then sends them out in mission to the world. The new group of believers is marked by the Holy Spirit, who creates such a distinctive community that others are drawn in, experiencing God’s grace. At the same time, they take the gospel message to new people and new lands, making God’s grace known to the ends of the earth.

The gospel’s expansion is the culmination of what God has been doing since the beginning. Luke consistently grounds salvation in the ancient purpose of God, which comes to fruition at God’s own initiative. Acts shows that the new Christian movement is not a fringe sect but the culmination of God’s plan of redemption. What was seen only as shadows in the Old Testament God reveals finally and fully through Jesus Christ. The book of Acts does not primarily provide human patterns to emulate or avoid. Instead, it repeatedly calls us to reflect upon the work of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, establishing the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to enter and participate in a story that is much bigger than we are.

In Acts, the gospel expands not through human strength, but through weakness, opposition, and persecution. Demonic forces, worldly powers and authorities, governmental opposition, language and cultural barriers, intense suffering and bloody persecution, unjust imprisonment, unbelief, internal disunity, and even shipwrecks and snakes all threaten to slow down the gospel’s advance. But opposition and suffering do not thwart the spread of Jesus’ grace; rather, they fuel it.

The gospel spreads despite barriers of geography, ethnicity, culture, gender, and wealth. Many of these barriers appear so inviolable that when the gospel is preached to a new segment of society, riots ensue. But Luke makes clear that no one is beyond the scope of God’s saving power, nor is anyone exempt from the need for God’s redeeming grace.

All people receive the grace of God through one man, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ gospel goes out to all places and all types of people, because Jesus is Lord of all.

Outline

I. Preparation for Witness (1:1–2:13)
II. The Witness in Jerusalem (2:14–5:42)
III. The Witness beyond Jerusalem (6:1–12:25)
IV. The Witness in Cyprus and Southern Galatia (13:1–14:28)
V. The Jerusalem Council (15:1–35)
VI. The Witness in Greece (15:36–18:22)VII. The Witness in Ephesus (18:23–21:16)
VIII. The Arrest in Jerusalem (21:17–23:35)
IX. The Witness in Caesarea (24:1–26:32)
X. The Witness in Rome (27:1–28:31)
Grace Is the Opposite of Karma

Grace Is the Opposite of Karma

A Q&A with Justin Holcomb on the release of his newest book, On the Grace of God.

 

Question: So let’s start with the big idea. Give us a quick summary of what the Bible says on the grace of God.

Justin Holcomb: “Grace” is the most important concept in the Bible, in Christianity, and in the world. The shorthand for grace is “mercy, not merit.”

Grace is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. Grace is the opposite of karma. Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely, the peace of God given to the restless, the unmerited favor of God. Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving. Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it. Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues. Grace is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him. Grace is one-way love.

Question: “The opposite of karma.” That’s good. In fact, that all sounds pretty good. And yet in the book you talk about how grace is actually offensive. Can you explain why a concept that involves unconditional love could make people mad?

JH: Unconditional love is a difficult concept to wrap your mind around. Many of us think (whether we admit it or not) there must be some breaking point where God gives up on us. Certainly there must be some sin or amount of sin that is just too much. Our natural human tendency is to establish negotiated settlements with God through religion, but grace undermines our religious attempts. As Jacques Ellul said, “Grace is the hardest thing for us to be reconciled to, because it implies the renouncing of our pretensions, our power, our pomp and circumstance. It is opposite of everything our ‘religious’ sentiments are looking for.”

“Karma is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is the opposite.”

Religious people don’t like grace because it messes up their gig: giving advice, telling people what to do and not to do, parenting, marriage, being a boss. Grace undermines condemnation and fear, which are the best tools for religion.

In the Christian tradition, there are many adjectives that have accompanied the word grace: amazing, free, scandalous, surprising, special, inexhaustible, incalculable, wondrous, mysterious, overflowing, abundant, irresistible, costly, extravagant, and more. John Calvin calls it gratuitous grace. Gratuitous is the idea of something being unwarranted or uncalled for. Though we yearn desperately for grace, the beautiful extravagance of God’s love in Christ is utterly uncalled for.

Question: Many of those words aren’t generally associated with the concept of grace outside the church context. How do you think people in general define grace?

JH: I actually bought a shampoo one time called “Amazing Grace.” I couldn’t resist. The description on the bottle was the best example of a bad definition of grace I’ve ever seen. I had to write it down:

Life is a classroom. We are both student and teacher. Each day is a test. And each day we receive a passing or failing grade in one particular subject: grace. Grace is compassion, gratitude, surrender, faith, forgiveness, good manners, reverence, and the list goes on. It’s something money can’t buy and credentials rarely produce. Being the smartest, the prettiest, the most talented, the richest, or even the poorest, can’t help. Being a humble person can and being a helpful person can guide you through your days with grace and gratitude.

This may sound nice, but it turns grace into a chore and a platitude. In our culture, the word grace has a lot to do with charm, elegance, beauty, or attractiveness. This has very little to do with how the Bible uses the word. Grace isn’t a personal virtue at all; grace is unmerited favor or a kindly disposition that leads to acts of kindness. Grace is a gift.

Question: Which of course raises the same question Paul talks about in the book of Romans. If grace is a gift that we receive freely—if our acceptance is based on grace and not whether we obey God’s law—what’s to prevent people from abusing the gift and ignoring God’s commands? How do you tackle this issue?

JH: When it comes to grace and law, it’s not a matter of keeping them in balance, but using them correctly. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus intensified the law when he took the Ten Commandments and told us that it’s not just about our outward behavior. If you sin inwardly you have broken all of the law. Then, in Matthew 22:36–39, he summarizes the law with two prongs. He’s asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replies: “Love God with all your heart” (which sums up the first four commandments), and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (which sums up the last six). Jesus made the law even more dangerous and intense than it was in the Old Testament. He wasn’t just explaining an ethical code for his followers—he was freaking people out so they would know their need for a Savior.

“Grace is the end of religion.”

The law is a mirror. It reflects to us our problem, our condition, our need, and our death. The law is good because it shows us reality. Like a mirror, the law shows us our problem. But a mirror can’t change what it shows us. It reflects our problem, but it can’t fix it. The law cannot generate what it commands. When applied to sin, the law curses us with judgment. In the presence of the law, only a holy substitute can save us. Look at what the Apostle Paul says: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Rom. 7:24–8:3).

Jesus died on the cross in our place to take away the curse we bear for breaking God’s law. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, there is an answer to the disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?” The good news comes when Jesus says, “With man [salvation] is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). That’s the point of the law and the gospel: with us, salvation is impossible (law), but for God, everything is possible (gospel). It’s when we face the impossibility of doing anything to save ourselves that the grace of God floods in.

Question: Talk more about the difference between grace and religion. How do you distinguish the two?

JH: “Religion” is shorthand for the human propensity is to establish negotiated settlements with God. Robert Capon explains: “The world is by no means averse to religion. In fact, it is devoted to it with a passion. It will buy any recipe for salvation as long as that formula leaves the responsibility for cooking up salvation firmly in human hands.”

Grace reveals our natural pride of self-sufficiency, as well as the pride of spiritual progression. God’s grace pushes us to recognize our sinfulness and reject all confidence in our abilities and ourselves. Grace is the end of religion because the secured promise of the gospel frees us from the supposed promises of our religious self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and self-justification.

“The cross is a coup de grâce, a ‘stroke of grace.’”

In religion, you get what you deserve. It is the same with karma. Karma is all about getting what you deserve. Christianity teaches that what you deserve is death with no hope of resurrection. Grace is the opposite of karma. While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God: his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor. The cross is God’s attack on sin and violence; it is salvation from sin and its effects. The cross really is a coup de grâce, meaning “stroke of grace,” which refers to the deathblow delivered to the misery of our suffering.

Question: That’s a great way to put it. Grace not only trumps religion, but also evil and suffering. What are some other ways that God’s grace can influence our day-to-day lives?

JH: God’s grace is overflowing and abundant. It is also powerful: grace motivates changed lives, as Paul writes: “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14, NIV)! Similarly, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). The principle that grace motivates ought to permeate our lives, work, and leadership.

For leaders, this means that when you want to see better performance from your staff, don’t threaten demotions or probation; instead, provide security, offer freedom for self-direction, and help them see the larger significance of their work.

For parents, if you want your children to be more obedient (not just compliant), don’t give them threats, but talk about Jesus’ obedience on their behalf and dazzle them with grace.

For pastors, when you want to see more faithfulness in your congregation, don’t just hammer them with the demands of the law; rather, tell them about Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf, even and especially when we are faithless (2 Tim. 2:13). You will be amazed at the fruit the Holy Spirit produces when you focus on grace, rather than threats and incentives. Grace motivates.

 




Do you want more? Grab a copy of On the Grace of God by Justin Holcomb today.

“Gratuitous” Grace

“Gratuitous” Grace

The following is an excerpt from On the Grace of God on John Calvin’s understanding of “gratuitous” grace.

In the Christian tradition, there are many adjectives that have accompanied the word grace: amazing, free, scandalous, surprising, special, inexhaustible, incalculable, wondrous, mysterious, overflow- ing, abundant, irresistible, costly, extravagant, and more. My favorite is from John Calvin—”gratuitous” grace. Gratuitous is the idea of something being unwarranted or uncalled for. Though we yearn des- perately for grace, the beautiful extravagance of God’s love in Christ is utterly uncalled for. Gratuitous. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes: “We make the foundation of faith the gratuitous promise, because in it faith properly consists. . . . Faith begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it” (Institutes 3.2.24).

In Calvin’s theology, the knowledge of God the redeemer focuses on the “gratuitous promise” as the main theme of Scripture. The gratuitous promise in Christ is the substance of Scripture. The various terms denoting the gratuitous promise of God exist throughout Calvin’s writings in countless variations: “gratuitous mercy,” “gratuitous favor,” “gratuitous goodness,” “mere good pleasure,” and “gratuitous love” (Institutes 2.7.4; 2.16.2; 2.17.1; 3.21.5; 3.21.7; 3.31.7)  These expressions are also found throughout his commentaries, especially his Commentary on Romans and Commentary on Genesis.

God loves you with gratuitous grace, the only kind there is. God’s grace is unconditioned and unconditional.

Grace All The Way

Grace All The Way

We must always hold Ephesians 2:10 together with 2:8–9.

Some of my friends and others who reviewed my book On the Grace of God have told me that the fifth chapter was their favorite. So, I thought it would be a great idea to give it away for free! You can download a copy of chapter 5 here. In the meantime, here’s a post adapted from the chapter.

High-Octane Gospel of Grace

Ephesians 2 is filled with the high-octane gospel of grace for both our justification and sanctification. It begins with how believers were dead in their sins, then moves to how God loved us and rescued us from this death by his grace, bringing salvation to all in Christ, uniting Jews and Gentiles as one people in which the Spirit of God dwells.

The first half of the chapter focuses on God’s rescue operation for his people, which delivered us from our sin and God’s wrath, and ends with verse 10, which centers on how God’s deliverance means we are created anew for lives of righteousness. As one commentator notes, salvation has already been described by Paul as “a resurrection from the dead, a liberation from slavery, and a rescue from condemnation”; he moves now to the idea of a new creation.

Grace Takes Center Stage

The theme of Ephesians 2:8–9 is clear: grace. This theme was already mentioned in verse 5, but what was then more of an “undercurrent” now becomes the main point. We are saved by grace, not anything we have done. The passage is a traditional one used to support the idea that justification before God is by grace alone, and not anything we do—and for good reason.

Good works can’t be the cause of our salvation—they just don’t work like that.

The verses strike with great emphasis the note of salvation as a complete “gift of God.” We have done nothing to bring it about that could lead us to boast about it. And yet it is nearly impossible not to boast in the radical love of God when we grasp this reality.

We now move to Ephesians 2:10 with its focus on “good works.” It is tempting at first glance to think that verses 8 and 9 are about grace and verse 10 is about works. But this would be to miss something very important that we easily neglect: everything is grace. Or, as one scholar puts it, “It is grace all the way.”

So what does that mean exactly?

Walking In Good Works

Notice how God-centered Ephesians 2:10 is. In the Greek, the first word in the sentence is “his,” which is an unusual placement and puts the emphasis squarely on God. We are “his workmanship.” We “are created [by God] in Christ Jesus” for good works. These good works were those “that God prepared beforehand.” Clearly works are important to Paul, but his emphasis here is on God bringing them about within us.

Notice that this verse does three important things:

  1. It gives the reason why Paul can say in verses 8 and 9 that salvation is a complete gift of God: because we are his workmanship, re-created in Jesus Christ.
  2. It points forward to other places the new creation idea is found in the epistle (Eph. 2:14–15; 4:24).
  3. It completes the section of Ephesians 2:1–10 in a fitting way by using again the idea of “walking,” which contrasts with verse 2 where Paul talks about how we used to “walk” in sin, following the “course of the world.” Now we “walk” in good works God has set before us.

The Goal, Not The Cause Of

Ephesians 2:10 continues, saying that we have been created in Christ Jesus “for good works.” So we are saved for the purpose of walking in good works. Good works are never the ground or cause of our salvation. They can’t be—they just don’t work like that. They are not the cause but the “goal of the new creation.” And God has already prepared them for us ahead of time.

We must always hold Ephesians 2:10 together with 2:8–9. The Bible paints a holistic picture of the believer as one whose life is continually lived in grace that bears fruit, fruit that is used by God to bless others.

 


 

Want more? Grab the book.







This post was adapted from On the Grace of God, by Justin Holcomb, copyright © 2013.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Book Highlights)

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Book Highlights)

How do successful leaders turn a group of people into a tribe and movement?

Tribes BookTribes: We Need You to Lead Us

by Seth Godin

New York: Portfolio, 2008.

 


 

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

–Seth Godin
Tribes, p. 2

In recent years the concept of tribes has been rising to prominence as a way of understanding the way people associate with one another, follow leaders, and rally around ideas. This idea has been popularized by the entrepreneur and author Seth Godin in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008).

In Tribes, Godin offers an explanation for the human desire to belong to something greater:

Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new. (p. 3)

The desire to belong to a tribe is part of human nature.

The New Internet Style

As Godin argues, tribal associations used to be limited more by geography: people connected with those in their own village or city. But now globalization and the Internet have allowed tribes to spring up and flourish without regard to geography. The result:

This means that existing tribes are bigger, but more important, it means that there are now more tribes, smaller tribes, influential tribes, horizontal and vertical tribes, and tribes that could never have existed before. Tribes you work with, tribes you travel with, tribes you buy with. Tribes that vote, that discuss, that fight. Tribes where everyone knows your name. The professionals at the CIA are a tribe and so are the volunteers at the ACLU. (p. 4–5)

Rather than creating a new phenomenon, the Internet simply empowers and amplifies the natural human urge to connect: “Before the Internet, coordinating and leading a tribe was difficult. It was difficult to get the word out, difficult to coordinate action, difficult to grow quickly. . . . Twitter and blogs and online videos and countless other techniques contribute to an entirely new dimension of what it means to be part of a tribe. The new technologies are well designed to connect tribes and to amplify their work” (p. 6).

Get ’em Together

The main idea of Tribes is that because it is now easier than ever to form, coordinate, and lead a tribe, anyone can become a leader. “Every one of these tribes is yearning for leadership and connection. This is an opportunity for you—an opportunity to find or assemble a tribe and lead it. The question isn’t, Is it possible for me to do that? Now, the question, is, Will I choose to do it?” (p. 8).

Leaders need to focus their message.

The most successful leaders, according to Godin, are those who turn their tribe into a movement by challenging the status quo: “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements. The marketplace now rewards (and embraces) the heretic. It’s clearly more fun to make the rules than to follow them, and for the first time, it’s also profitable, powerful, and productive to do just that” (p. 11).

Successful movement leaders inspire people rather than dominate them. These leaders “don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. . . . Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate. They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them” (p. 22–23).

L’il Communication

There are two things that are required to turn a group of people into a tribe: 1) a shared interest and 2) a way to communicate. Communication can be between the leader and the tribe, between tribe members, and between tribe members and outsiders. A leader can help make a tribe and its members more effective by:

  • Transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change
  • Providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications
  • Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members (p. 25)

Great leaders create movements, and a movement has three key features:

  1. A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build
  2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe
  3. Something to do—the fewer limits, the better (p. 27)

Hey Leaders

Godin argues that leaders need to focus their message on what will motivate their own tribe. “Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could ever be” (p. 67).

The vision of leadership laid out in Tribes is about attracting, connecting, communicating with, and motivating followers of a tribe. As Godin summarizes, “Leaders challenge the status quo. Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture. Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change. Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers. Leaders communicate their vision of the future. Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based upon that commitment. Leaders connect their followers to one another” (p. 126).

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Books and articles on protecting children, training them, and caring for abused children.

The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the U.S. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

The campaign this year is child sexual abuse prevention. Here are some resources I wanted to make available on this issue.

Rid of My Disgrace

In honor of SAAM, the ebook edition of Rid of My Disgrace is available for $0.99 until Monday, April 8th.

Posts On Protecting Children

Recommended Reading On Training Your Children

Recommended Reading On Caring For Your Child If They Have Been Abused

Resources From GRACE

I serve on the board of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Their resource page has some helpful articles and videos:

The Respond Conference

Matt Chandler, Greg Love, Paul Tripp, and myself will speak at Respond—a free, one-day conference at The Village Church advocating a biblical response to sexual assault.

 

 

 

 

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

A Jewish PerspectiveThe Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective

by Pinchas Lapide, translated by Wilhelm C. Linss

Augsburg Publishing, 1983

 


 

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Historically, Jesus’ resurrection (along with his claims to be the Son of God and the Son of Man) has always been the point of contention that separates Christians and Jews. However, the Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide (1922–1997), in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, turns that expectation on its head. Though he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lapide does believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. Recognizing that Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews, he seeks to understand it from a Jewish perspective.

Foundational Faith

According to Lapide, belief in resurrection was common in Judaism of Jesus’ day. He points out that not only does the Old Testament record several resurrections (or resuscitations; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:20–21), it alludes to the future resurrection for all people in a number of places (Job 19:25–27; Hosea 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:11–14; Dan. 12:2). Individual resurrections provided the basis for the final, general resurrection. Lapide claims, “This certainty of a future resurrection of all and of a possible earlier resurrection of some people especially graced by God was the precondition of the Easter faith of the disciples” (p. 64). Thus, the Jewish faith of the apostles was the foundation of their faith in the risen Christ.

Lapide does see the cross “as a definite pledge of God.”

Though he believes the New Testament embellished some of the facts, Lapide argues that the oldest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple and unexaggerated, which contributes to their reliability: “Instead of exciting Easter jubilation we hear repeatedly of doubts, disbelief, hesitation, and such simple things as the linen cloths and the napkins in the empty tomb” (p. 100). Furthermore, “The best proof for the solid faith in the resurrection is probably the realistic way in which the two oldest Gospels describe the painful death and Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross: ‘And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37)” (p. 110).

Only 3 explanations

In Lapide’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances have only three possible explanations. They were either:

  1. A religious myth,
  2. A series of individual personal experiences, or
  3. Historical events.

Though formerly a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, re-examining the evidence led Lapide to accept the resurrection as historical fact: “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself” (p. 126).

Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope Christians and Jews share.

Modern explanations of the resurrection that de-historicize the event appear to Lapide “as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers” (p. 129). If God truly was active in the miraculous events of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ resurrection is not inconceivable.

While Lapide does not see Christ’s work on the cross as accomplishing redemption, he does see it “as a definite pledge of God, as a down payment of further hope for the longed-for complete redemption which we all are still expecting” (p. 136). Moreover, though he thinks Christianity has misinterpreted it, Lapide believes Jesus’ resurrection has “helped advance the divine plan of salvation” because it has “carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world” (p. 142). The resurrection of Jesus can still provide hope of God’s faithfulness to Jews who are waiting their messiah, Lapide asserts.

A Common Hope

Jesus’ resurrection does not have to be miraculous, according to Lapide. The works of God “do not arbitrarily skip the natural chain of cause and effect like the works of the sorcerer in a fairytale” (p. 150). Resurrection is no more miraculous than is the creation of life through natural birth: “Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of a fertilized ovum?” (p. 151). Rather than a supernatural event, the resurrection is a natural event that gives meaning to all of life, and “the hope of resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth” (p. 151). Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope that Christians and Jews share.

Lapide does not believe the resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

It is unique for a Jewish scholar to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Yet as Carl Braaten writes in the introduction, “It is the contradictory interpretation placed on the final 48 hours from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the decisive events—cross and resurrection—on which the whole of Christianity is based” (pp. 13–14). Christians (and the New Testament) see in these events the revelation of the messianic identity of Jesus, while Jews still look for the Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom. Lapide accepts the resurrection as thoroughly historical, yet he is not a Christian because he does not believe it proves that Jesus is the Messiah.

For Lapide, Jesus is just a member of the great line of patriarchs and prophets who pave the way for the full salvation to be brought about through God’s kingdom. For Christians, the resurrection is God’s miraculous testimony that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:26), “the Holy and Righteous One . . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). We as Christians believe that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The below is an abridged excerpt from “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit,” a chapter that Mike Wilkerson and I co-authored in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, which was just released yesterday.

It’s About Engagement, Not A Process

Life is a mess of sin and suffering. When people find themselves in over their heads, they come to us the counselors, and quickly we’re in over our heads with them.

What do they want? Often they want relief from the pain or practical advice for how to break sin patterns. Sometimes they’re aware that there’s more to it, something deeper.

We can’t go far without prayer and Scripture.

What do we want for them? If we’re thinking biblically, then we’ll want to provide some immediate, practical help. But we also know that the roots of their problems are likely deeper than they are aware, and that God is often up to something greater than merely cleaning up the messes as we see them and in the ways that we would clean them.

We know that biblical counseling will involve prayer and Scripture—we can’t go far without those. Yet if we’re not careful, even prayer and Scripture can be deployed in the counseling process as mere techniques (the technologies of biblical counseling) rather than as means of engaging with the living God, who alone is sufficient for the needs at hand.

It’s The Holy Spirit’s Counseling

Rather than asking about the role of the Holy Spirit in counseling, we should be asking about the counselor’s role in the Holy Spirit’s counseling! Yes, there will be Scripture. Yes, there will be prayer. Yet, it is good for us to focus on the Holy Spirit’s personal presence, agency, and efficacy. We should not reduce him to the topic of “prayer in counseling,” nor to “Scripture in counseling.”

By taking this more personal approach, we’ll be reminded that prayer is not just a technique of spirituality—it is conversation with our Redeemer, a person.

The Holy Spirit is the primary counselor.

Further, the Spirit is at work even before we pray and in ways for which we may not even know how to pray. He does more than we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). We’ll also be reminded that the Scriptures are not magical formulas that work apart from our understanding; they are meaningful communications from a personal God about himself that we might know him. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to know God through the Scriptures.

Counseling that lacks this dependence on the Holy Spirit ceases to be Christian. Jay Adams is emphatic here:

Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion. Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and his Word without grievously sinning against him and the counselee.

 

Siang-Yang Tan agrees:

The role of the Holy Spirit in counseling is therefore a crucial one. He is the ultimate source of all true healing and wholeness. All true Christian counseling needs to be done in the Spirit, by the Spirit’s power, truth, and love, under the Lordship of Christ, and to the glory of God

It’s A Trialogue

If the Holy Spirit is the primary counselor, then biblical counseling is not merely a dialogue between a counselor and a counselee. Rather. It is a trialogue in which a counselor participates in the Spirit’s work already underway with the counselee. The Spirit is actively engaged in counseling, working directly on the counselor and the counselee, and through each to help the other.

 

Download the entire chapter

 


 

Copyright © 2013 abridged expert from Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, James MacDonald, Bob Kellemen, and Steve Viars, eds. 

 

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change

by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp

New Growth Press, 2006


The central theme of How People Change is that much of the time, Christians live with a “gospel gap.” We believe the gospel intellectually, but we don’t live out its implications practically. This gospel gap “subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God” as it “undermines every relationship in our lives, every decision we make, and every attempt to minister to others” (p. 2).

The Gospel Gap

The gospel gap produces three kinds of blindness: “blindness of identity,” when we underestimate the power of indwelling sin and misunderstand our identity in Christ Jesus; “blindness of God’s provision,” when we do not understand that God has provided “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3); and “blindness to God’s process,” when we forget that the Christian life is one of “constant work, constant growth, and constant confession and repentance” (p. 6).

Many external things can wrongly fill the gap of the gospel for us:

  • Formalism reduces the gospel to church attendance and spiritual disciplines.
  • Legalism adds to the gospel law-keeping and rule-keeping.
  • Mysticism reduces the gospel to personal experience.
  • Activism reduces the gospel to doing social justice.
  • Biblicism reduces the gospel to loving theology more than Jesus.
  • Psychology-ism reduces the gospel to therapy.
  • Socialism reduces the gospel to being accepted by a particular Christian community.

By contrast, the authors offer five gospel perspectives that fill the gospel gap:

  1. Awareness of “the extent and gravity of our sin” because we cannot be properly cured without a correct diagnosis.
  2. A focus on “the centrality of the heart” which emphasizes that sin corrupts not only our behaviors but our motivations.
  3. Attention to “the present benefits of Christ” because the gospel is the root not only of our justification but also our sanctification.
  4. A reminder of “God’s call to growth and change” because Christian growth requires self-conscious attention.
  5. A call to “a lifestyle of repentance and faith” because the grace of God is not merely the experience of forgiveness but also the enabling power of change.

According to Tripp and Lane, there are five common “deceitful” teachings that Christians sometime believe which cause us to lose gospel perspective and falsely attribute the root of our problems to our 1) circumstances, 2) behavior, 3) negative thinking, 4) low self-concept, or 5) the idea that we “just need to trust Jesus more.” Understanding the gospel helps us see that none of these can be the ultimate root of our sin or lack of Christian growth.

How God Changes Us

Christian “change is a community product” (p. 73). We can’t change ourselves or fix our problems alone. God intends that we change with others and that others change with us. Community has been ordained by God because God himself lives in community. Although relationships are always messy, personal change happens in community because God gives a diversity of gifts to individuals in the community. No one has the same gift, and everyone needs a diversity of gifts to grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not primarily a set of ways to live but a “big picture book.” The big picture of the Bible is the story of redemption. It is panoramic as it “introduces us to God, defines our identity, lays out the meaning and purpose of life, and shows us where to find help for the one disease that infects us all—sin” (p. 92). This picture tells us what life in a fallen world is like, who we are as fallen human beings, who Jesus is as Savior and Lord of all things, and how he progressively transforms us by grace.

You can respond to the heat of life with fruit.

Jeremiah 17:5–10 provides four images which create a model for appropriating the big picture of the Bible for our own lives:

  1. Heat represents “life in a fallen world,” and in the authors’ model it stands for a person’s situation in daily life, with difficulties, blessings, and temptations (pp. 95–96). It asks the question: “What is your situation?” (p. 105) An honest assessment of your experience is important to personal change.
  2. Thorns represent “the ungodly person who turns away from God” and in their model it stands for a person’s “ungodly response to the situation. [This] includes behavior, the heart driving the behavior, and the consequences that result” (pp. 95–96) It asks the questions: “How do you react? What do you want and believe?” (p. 106) Life doesn’t just happen to you. You react to it, and you are not forced to react the way you do. Your heart determines your reactions.
  3. The Cross is not explicitly found in the text but shows God as the Redeemer who “comforts, cleanses, and empowers those who trust him.” In the authors’ model it stands for “the presence of God in his redemptive glory and love. Through Christ, he brings comfort, cleansing, and the power to change” (p. 96). It asks the question: “Who is God and what does he say and do in Christ?” (p. 106) God is with you now and there is grace to change. Jesus is remaking and renewing you.
  4. Fruit in the text represents “the godly person who trusts the Lord,” and in their model it stands for the person’s “new godly response to the situation resulting from God’s power at work in the heart [including] behavior, the heart renewed by grace, and the harvest of consequences that follow” (p. 96). It asks the question: “How is God calling me to seek him in repentance and faith?” (p. 107) Because of God’s grace in your life, you can change. You can respond to the heat of life without thorns but with fruit.

The Ten Commandments illustrate that our sinful actions towards others (commandments 6–10) are the result of our tendency to worship something other than God (commandments 1–4). A grace-centered life of pursuing change is being honest about our sin, and being overwhelmed by God’s great love for us and promise to redeem us fully from sin.

Finally, Lane and Tripp offer five realities to remember as God changes our hearts:

  1. You are already a fruit tree because of what Christ has done for you.
  2. The Christian life is about living by faith in Christ, with the possibilities and privileges he brings.
  3. Because Christ has made you a new creation, good things are possible even in difficulty.
  4. Because you are united with Christ and his Spirit lives in you, trials and temptations are opportunities to experience the power of God at work.

God calls you to a new identity in Christ (“This is who I am”) and therefore a new way of living (“This is what I can be”) (pp. 220–221).

 

 

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