Theology

I Love You Air Conditionally

I Love You Air Conditionally

I still remember the day I learned what “unconditional” meant.

My dad said to me frequently, “I love you unconditionally,” and at age seven I finally asked, “What does air conditioning have to do with loving me?” I knew what “I love you” meant, but that weird word at the end baffled me. We lived in Florida where air conditioning is very important and appreciated, so I had assumed connecting air conditioning with my dad’s love for me was a good thing. Little did I know how good it was.

He blew my mind when he explained: “It means I love you always and forever, no matter what you do or don’t do.”

I had to see what this really meant. I asked with lots of curiosity, “Even if lie?”

“Yes, when you lie.”

“Even if I don’t eat my dinner?”

“Yes.”

“Even if I act badly at school?” I had a history of seeing how much I could get away with from my teachers. I got A’s and B’s on my grade reports, but my conduct reports were pretty bad. So this was me testing the limits of this so-called “unconditional love.” “Yes, even if you act badly,” he said. “Also, I don’t love you more when you tell the truth, eat your dinner, and behave better at school.

That’s what unconditional means—that nothing you do or don’t do changes my love for you.’

BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED

My dad saw the amazed look on my face. “Justin, this is how God loves us.” He quoted Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And then he read 1 John 4:7–21 and highlighted verse 19: “We love because he first loved us.”

Some people warn that “too much grace” leads to people thinking they can do anything they want.

I don’t believe in such a thing as ‘too much grace.’

Hearing of my dad’s unconditional love for me made me wonder if I could do anything I wanted and have him still love me, but it didn’t motivate me to rebel, sin, and disobey. My father’s unconditional love increased my love for him, compelled me to be obedient, and restrained my rebellious streak. In treating me like this, he wasn’t giving “too much grace,” he was imitating his Father in heaven: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).

“DO YOU LOVE ME WHEN I LISTEN?”

Now that I’m a dad, I’m banking on grace being true and powerful.

To get my 3-year-old daughter ready for bed, I asked her to stop playing and come to her room to get ready for bedtime. She acted like she didn’t hear me and walked away. In case she was distracted, I appealed to her, “Please listen to Daddy and come here.” She came running with a big, proud smile on her face. “I listened. I listened. Do you love me when I listen?”

Whoa! Yikes! When I heard that question, I knew this was a huge opportunity and I got nervous, hoping not to mess it up.

“Lovebug, Daddy loves you when you listen and when you don’t listen. I love you always and forever, no matter what.” She paused to think about it, and then she asked for clarification: “You love me even if I don’t listen?”

“Yes. I love you when you don’t listen.”

Her reply made me tear up with joy. “Wow,” she said. “That sounds gooooooooooood.”

What Is The Gospel?

What Is The Gospel?

Christian theology is about the gospel, which is focused on who Jesus is and what he said and did. Jesus is the hero of history and the centerpiece of the entire Bible.

God made us to worship him. He was our Father, living and walking among us, giving us everything we needed to live, and yet we chose to sin against him—a cosmic act of treason punishable by death (Gen 2:17Rm 6:23). As a result, we were separated from God, and we try to be our own gods, declaring what is right and wrong, and living life by our own standards.

JESUS LIVED

Despite our pride and ignorance, Jesus, who created the world and is God, lovingly came into human history as a man (John 1:14Rm 1:38:3Gal 4:4Philemon 2:78Col 1:221 Tim 3:16Heb 2:141 Jn 4:22 Jn 7). He was born of a virgin, (Mt 1:23Is 7:14) and he lived a life without sin, (Heb 4:151 Pt 2:221 Jn 3:5) though he was tempted in every way as we are.

Because of his great love for us, he went to the cross and took on the punishment of death that we justly deserved (Rm 3:251 Jn 2:2). Before his death and after his resurrection, he preached that the good news of God’s kingdom, love, promise, forgiveness, and acceptance was fulfilled in him, in both his life and death.

JESUS DIED

Our first parents in the garden substituted themselves for God, and, at the cross, Jesus reversed that substitution, substituting himself for sinners (1 Cor 15:45–48). When Jesus went to the cross, he willingly took upon himself the sin of those who would come to trust in him. That means that if you trust him as your Lord and Savior, Jesus went to the cross and took upon himself all your sin—past, present, and future—and that he died in your place, paying your debt to God and purchasing your salvation (Rm 10:9;Mt 10:32Lk 12:8).

JESUS EXCHANGED

Jesus not only took the punishment for your sin, but he also lived a perfectly righteous life. When you trust in Christ, your sins are forgiven and you are declared righteous by God, the ultimate judge. The righteousness of Christ is attributed to you as if you lived a perfect life. 2 Cor 5:21 tells us this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We are the villains, turned into the adopted, children of God.

Martin Luther called this the Great Exchange: “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.” The famous Christian hymn, “Rock of Ages,” says the same thing: “Be of sin the double cure. Save from wrath and make me pure.”

JESUS ROSE

Jesus’ dead body was then laid in a tomb, where he lay buried for three days. On the third day, Jesus rose in victory over Satan, sin, death, demons, and hell (Lk 42:1Mt 28:1–8Mk 16:1–8Jn 20:1). After spending some more time eating, drinking, laughing, and teaching with his closest friends (Jn 20-21), he ascended into heaven, and today is alive and well (Acts 1:6–11).

He is seated on a throne, and he is ruling and reigning over all nations, cultures, philosophies, races, and periods of time. Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, and those who trust in him will enjoy eternity in his kingdom of heaven forever. Those who do not will suffer apart from him in the conscious, eternal torments of hell (Rev 21).

He is King of kings and he is Lord of lords (Rev 17:14), and he is ruling and reigning over all people, commanding everyone everywhere to repent. And now he commissions us with the Holy Spirit to be missionaries, telling this amazingly good news that there is a God who passionately, lovingly, continually, and relentlessly pursues us.

GOSPEL-CENTERED

To be gospel-centered means to focus on Jesus, who he is and what he has done, not on who we are and what we have done or will do for God. The gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ (Mk 1:1) who came “to seek and save the lost” (Lk 19:10).

The gospel is for every one, every day, and every moment.

In 1 Cor 15:4-6, Paul declares and defines the gospel clearly: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures … he was buried … he was raised on the third day … he appeared.” Paul says these facts are “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3).

To hold this gospel message as “of first importance” is what it means for one’s theology to be “gospel-centered.” The gospel should have a central place in Christian theology and ministry. The gospel is clearly the center of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry and the Bible. It should also to be the center of what every Christian and church believes because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16).

GOD REMAINS FAITHFUL

The focus of the gospel is not on the inadequacy of humankind but rather on the character and glory of God: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13). However, we are transformed when we live “in line with the gospel” (Gal 2:14)—avoiding both legalism and licentiousness—and pursuing the joy found in complete and utter surrender of our unrighteous life in exchange for his righteous life (Gal 2:20). The gospel is what makes us right with God (justification) and it is also what frees us to delight in God (sanctification). The gospel changes everything.

Calling the gospel the “power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (Rm 1:16) means that it is the power to accomplish the whole matter of salvation from beginning to end without a scrap of human effort. We cannot and dare not ever move “beyond” the gospel. There is no such “beyond” for Christians, just a “different gospel,” (Gal 1:6–72 Cor 11:41 Tim 1:3) which is not good news at all. Apart from the gospel there is no forgiveness of sins, no hope, and no transformation into Christ’s likeness.

A gospel-centered reading of the Bible sees it not as a record of good people earning God’s blessing, but bad people receiving God’s blessing because Jesus earned it for them. At the center of the Bible is the good news that God treated Jesus the way we deserved and he daily treats us the way Jesus deserved. The center of the Bible is Jesus. He is the hero. We are the villains, turned into the adopted, children of God.

JESUS, NOT RELIGION

Because of the amazing and radical message of the gospel, it’s important that we don’t confuse the gospel with religion. Christians intentionally talk about Jesus (who he is and what he has done). We worship Jesus, not religion. As such we desire to talk more about what Jesus has done rather than what people should do (Gal 1:6–9).

There is a God who passionately, lovingly, continually, and relentlessly pursues us.

The beauty of the gospel is that once you truly understand what Jesus has done for you, you desire to do what he calls you to do. Trying to do it the other way around is futile.

The message of Jesus was, “Repent!” not, “Be better!” As Martin Luther said in his first of his 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” So, echoing Luther, we affirm that all of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners isn’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but instead the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every one, every day, and every moment.

Sin, Sex, and Shalom

Sin, Sex, and Shalom

IN THE BEGINNING, IN HIS IMAGE

The Bible begins with God, the Sovereign Lord and good Creator of all things: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God’s creative handiwork, everything from light to land to living creatures, is called “good.” But humanity, being the very image of God, is the crown of God’s good creation (“behold it was very good”).

In Genesis 1:26, God says “Let us make man in our image.” In the very beginning, our Creator gave us a remarkable title: he called us the image of God. This reveals the inherent dignity of all human beings as representatives of the supreme King of the universe.

As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings reveal God more wonderfully than any other creature as they were created like God, by God, for God, and to be with God.

MULTIPLY AND HAVE DOMINION

Immediately after making the man and woman, God granted them a special commission: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

With the commission to multiply, Adam and Eve’s job was to produce so many images of God that they would cover the earth. Then, God ordered them to have dominion over the earth, or exercise authority over creation, managing its vast resources on God’s behalf, not dominating it, but being good stewards of creation and creators of culture.

Multiplication and dominion are deeply connected to our being the image of God. To be sure, God had no problem filling the earth with his presence, but he chose to establish his authority on earth in ways that humans could understand. God commanded his images to populate the landscape of his creation. In the command to “multiply,” God wanted his images spread to the ends of the earth. His command to “have dominion” is God giving humans authority to represent him in his world. Marital sex is the means by which we fulfill our calling of multiplying and taking dominion.

SHALOM

God’s plan for humanity was for the earth to be filled with his image bearers, who were to glorify him through worship and obedience. This beautiful state of being, enjoying the cosmic bliss of God’s intended blessing and his wise rule, is called shalom. As one scholar writes:

In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight‚ a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.

Shalom means fullness of peace, and harmonious and responsible relationship with God, other human beings, and nature, as God intended. It is the vision of a society without violence or fear: “I will give you peace (shalom) in the land, and none shall make you afraid” (Leviticus 26:6).

In short, biblical writers use the word shalom to describe the world of universal peace, safety, justice, order, and wholeness God intended. In shalom, sex is also a reflection of unity and peace between man and woman. It is a picture of two becoming one in marriage.

SIN

This peaceful, loving relationship was shattered by the entrance of sin into the world. Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and violated shalom. Sin wrecks the order and goodness of God’s world. Instead of unashamed intimacy and trust, there is shame and mistrust. Instead of grace, there is disgrace.

A foundational element of paradise, sexual innocence in community, has been spoiled by the treachery of sin. Sex, the very expression of human union, intimacy, and peace, becomes a tool for pain, suffering, and destruction after the fall.

GRACE

Sin is not the last word on the world or us. God reconciled the world to himself through Jesus Christ. By dealing with sin at the cross, Jesus made reconciliation between God and humanity possible, as well as reconciliation with one another.

The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace. God’s redemption imparts grace and brings peace, including our sexual past, present, and future. There is healing, hope, cleansing, and forgiveness for all who trust in Jesus.

The Bull’s-Eye Of The Gospel

The Bull’s-Eye Of The Gospel

There was a woman named Kathy who swiped credit cards in a cafeteria at the University of Virginia, where I used to teach. Everyone who ate there knew her, because she emanated enough kindness to cheer up even the most discouraged students. She had a Facebook fan group with over 1400 fans, and people would go to the cafeteria just to hear her comforting words. She always delivered.
Kathy was a hit because she tapped into the human need for a comforting word. People feel tired, ugly, stupid, and unwanted, and they want to hear something different than what they think about themselves or are told by others or culture.

Jesus gives a warm invitation to himself.

We are no different. We are all “weary and heavy laden.” Whether it’s job loss, illness, discouragement, loneliness, repeated sins, or memory of what’s been done to us, we all have things in the back or the front of our minds that add to our weariness and burdens. Then we read these amazing words of Jesus which are the bull’s-eye of the gospel:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. – Matt 11:28-30

“COME TO ME”

According to Jesus, it’s all about Jesus. He claims to be the center of all God’s revelation (Luke 24) and the source of ultimate rest and rescue. Notice the invitation, “Come to me.” He doesn’t just give advice and instruction; he doesn’t say, “Go try this principle.” Instead, he gives a warm invitation to himself.

Jesus’ invitation shows us the heart of God. God came to seek us out. In his book Training in Christianity, Søren Kierkegaard wrote:

He is the friend of sinners: When it is a question of a sinner, He does not merely stand still, open His arms and say, ‘Come here.’ No, he does not stand and wait, he goes forward to seek, as the shepherd searched for the lost sheep, as the woman searched for the lost coin. He has gone infinitely farther than any shepherd or any woman, He went the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man, and that way He went in search of sinners.

“ALL WHO LABOR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN”

God favors the weak and burdened, not the spiritually proud. Jesus embraces the meek and the broken—the ones who feel swamped with heavy burdens. It is no small thing that he spent so much time with those considered spiritual losers of his day.

Jesus invites all who are worn out and “carrying heavy burdens.” This last phrase is unique and only repeated in Matt 23:4—Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens… and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Jesus is referring to a religion that was meant to honor God, but its effect was to condemn the ordinary person to hard labor.

Those who come to Jesus will find that his yoke is lighter, not because he demands less but because he bears the load for us.

Graceless religion sounds very pious and well-intentioned, but it grinds you down even further. Through the arbitrary demands of the super-religious, religion becomes even more of a burden on top of the burdens you already have. Jesus paints a picture of being under a huge weight that is crushing you—and then the religious people are jumping on your back and whipping you.

GRACELESS RELIGION

In the Bible, graceless religion is presented as an intolerable burden. Peter asked those who emphasized the law without the gospel, “Why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).

Everyone feels this sense of burden, whether it’s the legitimate burden of God’s law or burdens manufactured by yourself or other people. Jesus makes his invitation to all who are weary and burdened.

“I WILL GIVE YOU REST”

Jesus offers rest and relief to the broken and weighed-down. The image that should come to mind when Jesus says “weary and heavy laden” is of an exhausted slave worker, and when he says “I will give you rest,” it could best be translated as “relief.” When you feel the emotional and spiritual weariness of carrying a heavy burden, Jesus is not a slave driver, but the one who frees you from slavery and gives you relief.

Jesus talks about his “yoke” (v. 30) and contrasts it with the yoke of the Pharisees who heap burdens but don’t lift a finger to help. Jesus is the opposite. Those who come to Jesus will find that his yoke is lighter, not because he demands less but because he bears the load for us.

God favors the weak and burdened, not the spiritually proud.

A yoke was used for training cattle to plow. It was a wooden bar that fit around the head and on the shoulders. To train an ox, you’d put a strong experienced one on one side and then the younger ox on the other. The big ox would do all the pulling and work, while the young one strolled along, pulling off in various directions. This is what Jesus means. He straps the yoke to his neck and pushes it for us. He takes the yoke we are incapable of carrying, and then takes the whippings of the Law for us at the cross. Our burden is light because he takes the yoke that burdens us and does all the work.

The main way this rest applies to us is the forgiveness of our sins. We have rest in this life as we are forgiven of our sins, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1). And we will have eternal rest when God wipes every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain or weariness or heavy burdens.

So, come to Jesus, all you who are weary and burdened, and he will give you rest.

Why Science Needs The Christian Worldview

Why Science Needs The Christian Worldview

Christians can be confident in a discussion on the nature and use of science, precisely because only the Christian worldview can provide the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of scientific inquiry. Science requires a significant number of philosophical assumptions just to conduct empirical investigation.

 

BORROWED ELEMENTS?

The non-Christian account of science falters under the weight of numerous internal contradictions. It should be remembered that non-Christians do science (and usually do so very well), but they cannot give an account for the very science they are doing without relying on the “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. According to Cornelius Van Til, unbelievers use the good gifts of God, which are spread throughout creation and on which they unknowingly depend in their thought and life, without giving God the glory. Non-Christian scientists are able to avoid utter nihilism and skepticism in science only by being inconsistent with their own worldview and borrowing some elements of God’s revelation.

What are those borrowed elements? What are some of the most important presuppositions without which scientific investigation should prove impossible? A brief list of such presuppositions includes:

 

1. THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURE

The laws, properties, or characteristics of objects and phenomena of a particular class do not vary over distance or time. Nature should be regarded as uniform.

 

2. INDUCTION

Since nature is considered uniform, one may, from a limited number of objects/phenomena of a class, properly induce generalizations about all objects/phenomena of that same class.

 

3. ONTOLOGICAL/EPISTEMOLOGICAL REALISM

Nature has an objective existence as an interdependent system, and is both intelligible and accessible to the human intellect.

 

4. MATHEMATICAL REALISM

Nature can be described accurately by the use of mathematics.

 

5. METHODOLOGICAL, EPISTEMIC, AND ETHICAL VALUES

Examples of these would be the common claims that some methods constitute good science, others bad or pseudo-science; good theories have certain characteristics; and scientists ought to report accurately and honestly.

 

6. THE RELIABILITY OF THE HUMAN MIND AND SENSORY FACULTIES

The human mind and senses “fit” the natural world, and the use of the laws of logic aids discovery of truth and tends to falsify error.

 

7. ONTOLOGICAL/CONCEPTUAL CATEGORIES

Observed phenomena and entities are defined a priori by known classes such as objects, facts, events, etc. and are construed in a scientific tradition as planets, waves, species, etc.

 

8. THE USEFULNESS/ADEQUACY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE NATURE

Nature corresponds to the mind in such a way that human language closely “fits” nature.

 

9. THE EXISTENCE OF SINGULARITIES, ULTIMATE BOUNDARY CONDITIONS, AND BRUTE GIVENS

Certain features/constants of the cosmos are simply taken for granted (eg. the mass of a proton, some values for forces, free acts of moral agents, etc.).

 

THE NECESSARY PRESUPPOSITIONS

My argument is that only the Christian description of the world offers these presuppositions necessary for scientific inquiry. The philosophical preconditions for science are in the pages of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. According to Scripture, God is the transcendent and almighty Creator of heaven and earth, and everything owes its very existence and character to His creative powers and definition (Genesis 1; Nehemiah 9:6Col. 1:16–17).

He makes particulars in creation the way they are and determines that they will function as they do. According to Psalm 147:5, “His understanding is infinite.” Ephesians 1:11 declares that God sovereignly governs every event that transpires, determining what, where, when, and how anything takes place. This includes the motion of the planets, the molecular world, and the death of a sparrow. Isaiah 40:12–28 celebrates the power, creation, providence, delineating, and directing of Yahweh. God has the freedom and control over the created order as the potter has over the clay (Romans 9:21). Moreover, knowledge is possible because of a corresponding capacity created in us by God.

 

THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURE

The atheist worldview cannot account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process. David Hume has taught us that to say the future will be like the past is to beg the question. Since the uniformity of nature is an unjustified assumption in the atheistic worldview, there is no basis upon which to engage in scientific activities. Bertrand Russell succinctly states the problem of assuming the uniformity of nature in The Problems of Philosophy:

The problem we have to discuss is whether there is any reason for believing in what is called ‘the uniformity of nature.’ The belief in the uniformity of nature is the belief that everything that has happened or will happen is an instance of some general law to which there are no exceptions… But science habitually assumes, at least as a working hypothesis, that general rules which have exceptions can be replaced by general rules which have no exceptions… Have we any reason, assuming that they (scientific laws) have always held in the past, to suppose that they (scientific laws) will hold in the future.

The problem is that without a basis for the uniformity of nature there is no basis for induction. Russell continues that the business of science is to find uniformities, such as the law of gravitation and the laws of motion. Is it possible to formulate general laws of science in a world with no basis for the uniformity of nature? Russell answers this in the negative by writing the following:

Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards the cases that have been already examined; but as regards unexamined cases, it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. All arguments which, on the basis of experience, argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present, assume the inductive principle; hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principlewithout begging the question. Then we must either accept the inductive principle on the ground of its intrinsic evidence, or forgo all justification of our expectation about the future.

Christians are not left with such a problem, precisely because the uniformity of nature and induction are compatible with the Christian view of the world. God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to humans that we can count on regularities in the natural world. Because of this regularity, the endeavors of science will be fruitful. Science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.

Why Jesus Wants You To Lose Hope

Why Jesus Wants You To Lose Hope

In Mark 10, a young rich man eagerly comes to Jesus. He is a winner who does not want to give up trying to win.

The good thing about him is that he has a desire for something more, something beyond worldly winning. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It is good to ask about eternal life, but his question reveals a deep flaw. You see, as Robert Capon notes, while he wants something more, he can’t imagine pursuing it in any other way than doing through more winning and striving. His question shows he believes there are techniques for inheriting eternal life.

 

BREAKING THE LAW

Jesus knows the man’s mindset. He responds, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” Jesus is showing him that the law can save no one because the law can be kept by no one. He’s bringing up the law so the young man will take an honest look at how unsuccessful he’s been at practicing the righteousness he thinks is the answer to his problems.

 

But instead of recognizing his shortcomings as measured by these basic commands, this guy cuts Jesus off with, “I’ve done all those things perfectly since I was a kid.” In effect what he’s saying is, “Why don’t you give me a harder, more grown-up spiritual assignment?”

 

And how does Jesus respond? This is good for us to see. After being cut-off and ignored, Jesus looks at him and loves him. That’s what he does to us.

 

Jesus loves us when we don’t get it, when we rebel, when we rely on our own selves and not him. He is the picture of perfect, patient love.

 

So, with patient love and cosmic understatement, Jesus presses the law even further. “You only have to do one simple little thing.” The man’s eyes widen with anticipation. “Sell all that you have and give to the poor . . . and follow me.”

 

Jesus has really just applied the first of the Ten Commandments to this rich guy: Worship no other gods but God. Serve nothing but God. Jesus is revealing to him how much he fails to fulfill the commandments because he worships his wealth so much and asking him to give it up.

 

Jesus does the same thing to us, too. It might not be riches, but it could be anything you love more than God. Your idol is whatever you rely on to justify your existence. This text is not really about wealth, but idolatry. We are all guilty of loving something more than God, so Jesus turns the law on us, too.

 

INTENSIFYING THE LAW

There is a reason we write about law and gospel so much: it’s because Jesus and the Apostle Paul talked and wrote about it so much. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus intensified the law when he took the Ten Commandments and told us, it is not just about our outward behavior. If you sin inwardly you have broken all of the law.

 

Then, in Matthew 22:37 he summarized the law with two prongs. He was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied: “Love God with all your heart” (summarizing the first four commandments), and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (summarizing 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.

 

This is what’s supposed to happen when we read: “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength . . . and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the law pointing directly at us and asking us to give an account. Our response is not “Sure, that sounds easy and fun,” but instead “Lord have mercy on us!” We need mercy because we fail at those two things.

 

You don’t love God or your neighbor perfectly. That’s why you need a Savior.

THE LAW IS A MIRROR

You see, 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. When we look in the mirror, it says, “You need to shave or apply some make-up.” Like a mirror, the law shows us our problem, but it doesn’t fix our problem. The law cannot generate what it commands.

 

The correct response to understanding the perfect law of a perfect God is what the disciples say in Mark 10:26: “Who then can be saved?”

 

THE RESCUE

When applied to sin, the law curses us with judgment. In the presence of the law, only a holy substitute can save us, or else we leave in depression like the young man. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7 and 8: “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” (Romans 7:24–8:3).

 

Jesus died on the cross in our place to take away our curse 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 gospel of Jesus floods in.

Naturalism, Knowledge, and History

Naturalism, Knowledge, and History

Naturalism, the philosophical worldview that everything arises from nature and nothing exists beyond it, meaning there’s no such thing as the spiritual realm.  However, this view ultimately leaves one with no justification for trusting one’s own rational faculties, and in so doing, erodes its own credentials. Ronald Nash argues that Naturalism cannot support the common assumption that human rationality corresponds to the objective world:

“Naturalism gives us no reason at all to suppose that our reasoning is valid. Only conscious minds can have plans or purposes, so [given Naturalism] there is no plan or purpose that will ensure that our reasoning will attain truth. Forces that are without our mind might happen to give us powers of valid reasoning, but they equally might happen to give us defective or invalid reasoning powers. And there is no reason to suppose that they would give us powers of valid reasoning rather than defective powers. . . . . If I pose a mathematical problem and throw some dice, the dice may happen to fall into a pattern which gives the answer to my problem. But there is no reason to suppose that they will. Now in the Chance view, all our thoughts are the result of processes as random as a throw of dice. In the Determinist view, all our thoughts result from processes that have as little relation to our minds as the growth of a tree. . . .Naturalism’s major problem, then, is explaining how mindless forces give rise to minds, knowledge, and sound reasoning. But every Naturalist wants others to think that his Naturalism is a consequence of his sound reasoning” (pp. 258–259).

Naturalism is self-referentially absurd and is unable to make sense of rationality, a necessary precondition for conducting historical inquiry.

NATURALISM CAN’T PROVIDE RELIABLE HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE

Naturalism is unable to make sense of any of the epistemological ingredients essential for historical knowledge. Two of those ingredients—the uniformity of nature and the principle of induction—illustrate the point.

Historical inquiry would prove impossible if one were forbidden to assume that nature remains uniform over time and that one may accurately induce a generalization about an entire class of objects from a relatively small set, provided one exercises due caution in so extrapolating. Historians do so when they assume that evidencefrom the past can accurately reflect it to our minds under present conditions.

They further assume—and must assume in order to do history—that humans share a common nature, that time runs in one direction only, and that the objective world is both real and intelligible.

Yet, given a Naturalistic world-view, one cannot give an account for such necessary assumptions. Why should time not run in cycles in a dynamic world, as many ancients supposed? What warrants the assumption that universals permeate the universe in a materialistic evolving cosmos? What guarantee is there that the past resembles the future, or that the present is analogous to the past, and why does the flowing evolutionary process not destroy such an analogy? Why should historical investigation even have value, as something more than a waste of time? Ultimately, the Naturalist cannot provide a coherent answer to these questions. The Naturalistic worldview lacks explanatory power. Moreover, it cannot provide an internally coherent account for the things one needs to conduct any sort of intelligible activity.

THEISM EXPLAINS WHAT NATURALISM CAN’T

A theist, however, can. The theist can account for the validity of induction by acknowledging the universals built into the cosmos by the Creator. The theist can also account for the belief that the future will resemble the past because the Sustainer is faithful and does not change (Malachi 3:6Hebrews 13:8). The theistic worldview offers a ready explanandum for the intelligibility of human experience. I. Howard Marshall notes the arbitrary character of historical investigation on the Naturalistic view (emphasis, mine):

“. . . all historical study involves elements of imagination and faith in that the historian, possessed of only partial and sometimes enigmatic evidence, has to exercise a measure of faith in the reliability of the evidence, the validity of historical study, and the possibility of constructing a model which will account satisfactorily for the evidence. Unless the historian is prepared to take some leaps in the dark, he will not be able to make any progress at all.”

The final refutation of a Naturalistic view of history, then, derives from the fact that, without the theistic worldview (as opposed to the Naturalistic worldview), one cannot make sense of the necessary preconditions for the historical knowledge of anything.

Theology Of Friendship

Theology Of Friendship

Friendship seems like such a natural part of human life that we probably don’t stop to think about what it is and where it came from. Yet understanding why God created friendship is important for understanding ourselves and God.

FRIENDSHIP AND THE TRINITY

In systematic theology, the concept of friendship arises most frequently in discussions of the Trinity. God is a Trinitarian being of three persons existing in joyful community, love, and friendship. Each member of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—loves and serves the others and work together in common purpose. It is out of this perfect community God has enjoyed from all eternity that he created us for friendship with one another and, through Jesus, makes us his friends.

AUGUSTINE ON FRIENDSHIP

Augustine, perhaps better than any other theologian, captures the essence of friendship in a practical, everyday manner in his work, Confessions:

To make conversation, to share a joke, to perform mutual acts of kindness, to read together well-written books, to share in trifling and in serious matters, to disagree though without animosity—just as a person debates with himself—and in the very rarity of disagreement to find the salt of normal harmony, to teach each other something or to learn from one another, to long with impatience for those absent, to welcome them with gladness on their arrival.

For Augustine, loving friendship isn’t just a feeling, but leads to concrete expressions of love: “These and other signs come from the heart of those who love and are loved and are expressed through the mouth, through the tongue, through the eyes, and a thousand gestures of delight, acting as fuel to set our minds on fire.” He recognizes the virtues of friendship to create unity as well: “Human friendship is also a nest of love and gentleness because of the unity it brings about between many souls.”

Augustine sees human friendship as pointing to a higher friendship with God. Matthew Levering writes,

As Augustine comes to appreciate… the practice of the ascent of the soul to friendship with the divine Trinity occurs through the friendship in and with Jesus Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit. This friendship takes effective shape in the community of believers, the church as the mystical Body of Christ united by her sacramental participation through the Holy Spirit in Christ’s saving work… The goal of the Trinity’s work in history, then, is to draw us into contemplative friendship with the Trinity. This contemplative friendship, Augustine is clear, cannot fully be enjoyed prior to the vision of God, eternal life. Yet in faith the first fruits have arrived.

JESUS, FRIEND OF SINNERS

Jesus Christ is the concrete expression of God’s love for us. However, Jesus Christ, completely different from us in his righteousness and holiness, brought us to the table of God’s friendship through his reconciling work.

The gospel flips normal conceptions of friendship on their heads, for typically, friendship is based on compatibility.

Jesus also turns the conventions of friendship upside down by treating others in unexpected ways. He says,

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12–14).

One scholar writes:

The rule of Luke 14:12 conflicts with the conventions of antiquity by rejecting the principle of reciprocity (cf. Matthew 5:46–47). Jesus breaks down the wall of an exclusiveness of fellowship and love. In Luke 14:12 friendship and table fellowship are correlative (cf. 15:6, 9, 29). The fact that Jesus eats with publicans and sinners is the basis of the charge that he is [a friend of sinners] (7:34). In fact, he loves sinners and is loved by them, as the washing of his feet, the kiss, and the anointing show (7:37 ff.).

FRIENDSHIP AND MISSION

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann argued that “friend” should become one of the church’s titles for Jesus alongside “prophet,” “priest,” and “king.” There should be a direct connection between Jesus’ friendship with believers and our open friendship with the rest of his body, his church.

Jesus tells his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). As Peter Slade writes in his book, Open Friendship in a Closed Society, “This is no easy designation. Jesus indicates the import and cost of such a statement by linking friendship with the greatest possible human love for, as Jesus explains, ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13).”

We learn true friendship by looking to the example of Jesus, who gave up his life to make his enemies—us—into his friends.

Jesus Saves Sinners For God’s Glory

Jesus Saves Sinners For God’s Glory

The Latin word sola means “alone” or “only.”

The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and that summarize the Reformers’ basic theological convictions on what they believed to be the essentials of the Christian life and practice.

THE FIVE SOLAS ARE:

1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): Scripture alone is our highest authority.

2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone.

3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone.

4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.

5. Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

The following is a brief explanation of each. (For further reading, on this see The Cambridge Declaration.)

SOLA SCRIPTURA

When rightly interpreted, the Bible is about Jesus Christ and his role as God and Savior. Additionally, Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Every word of the 66 books of the Bible is divinely inspired. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture, illuminates the meaning and understanding of Scripture, and empowers obedience to Scripture.

The Scriptures alone are our only ultimate and inerrant authority for faith and practice. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is the only place where truth is found, but it does mean that everything else we learn about God and his world, and all other authorities, are subordinate to the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the sole necessary and sufficient source of our theology.

SOLA FIDE AND SOLA GRATIA

We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit alone. We are neither saved by our merits nor declared righteous by our good works. We do not deserve grace, or else it wouldn’t be grace. This means that God grants salvation not because of the good things we do, or even our faith—and despite our sin. God’s election is the unconditional and unmerited nature of his grace.

As humans, we inherited a nature that is in bondage to sin from Adam. We are born in sin. We are naturally enemies of God and lovers of evil. We needed to be made alive (regenerated) so that we could even have faith in Christ. All of this is grace that we don’t deserve. Because we didn’t earn or attain this grace, we cannot lose it.

God graciously preserves us and keeps us. When we are faithless toward him, he is still faithful.

We can only stand before God by his grace as he mercifully attributes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ and attributes to him the consequences of our sins, which were judged on the cross. The effects of this gospel are many. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, our only comfort in life and death is this:

“That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.”

Ephesians 2:8–10 teaches all this clearly:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ”

SOLUS CHRISTUS

God reveals himself to everyone everywhere through general revelation, which includes creation and conscience. In general revelation, God has made known his power and divine nature, wisdom, majesty, justice, and goodness.

God has supremely revealed himself to fallen humans through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It’s only through special revelation, God’s gracious self-revelation in Jesus, that any of us comes to a saving and transforming knowledge of God.

Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity. Because God is holy and all humans are sinful and sinners, we need a Savior who mediates between us and God. Religious rituals do not mediate between us and God—neither do the good works we do. Nobody else, except the God-man, Jesus Christ, serves as our mediator to God. There is no other name by which a person can be saved other than the name Jesus. Jesus intercedes on our behalf and his sacrifice alone is sufficient to atone for sin.

SOLI DEO GLORIA

We live in a culture of self-glorification. People work their whole lives to gain glory through money, fame, or achievement. Self-esteem is the highest goal. As every Little League coach now claims, “Everybody is a winner.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that everybody is a loser. And it is by God’s grace alone that we become winners. Because of this, glory belongs to God alone. God’s glory is the central motivation for saving sinners, not improving the lives of people—that is a wonderful byproduct.

God is not a means to an end—he is the means and the end.

The goal of all of life is to give glory to God alone: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Westminster Catechism says the chief purpose of our life is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

God’s glory and fame are to be our only and ultimate ambition.