Category Archives: Bible

Vindication vs. Intercession

In an entry of Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest titled “The Distraction of Contempt” my father underlined this:

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Recently I have been thinking about the meaning and causes of “having a critical spirit” so this caught my attention (and it is November 23 today).

I have at least three thoughts on this.  One is that Christ followers are called to take up their cross and follow Jesus.  Just as he was misunderstood and maligned I can expect that too.  So as much as I want to make sure I am understood and correct misconceptions, I need to accept that is not always possible, especially when there is a world view divide.  Secondly, and more importantly, I think, is that ultimately it is God who convicts and corrects, not me.  But I have been taught to intercede so that needs to be my primary response.

Birth From the Top Down

Another new hymn to me, this one found in Sinclair B. Ferguson’s book Know Your Christian Life.  

From the chapter “Born Again” in which this old hymn is referenced:

    The new birth is, firstly, heavenly in origin.  Over and over again Christ emphasised this to Nicodemus.  He needed to be born of water ‘and the Spirit’, for only the Spirit gives birth to spirit…Indeed the principle is heavily underlined by the expression ‘born again’.  The word John uses, translated ‘again’, can mean either again or from above. It is difficult to be dogmatic about its significance here.  On the one hand, Nicodemus appears to follow through Jesus’ words in terms of being born ‘again’ i.e. for a second time.  He raises the question whether someone can re-enter the womb.  But the other uses of the word in John strengthen the case for translating ‘from above’.  In John 3: 31; 19;11, 23, it conveys the idea from the top downwards.  If we take it in this sense then we are still able to make sense of Nicodemus’ response.  When Jesus tells him that he needs to be born from above, only faintly understanding the meaning, he lamely asks whether another birth is possible.

    The corollary of this is often ignored.  If we are members of that kingdom it must be by heavenly birth!  In other words, if we are Christians it can only be because God has wonderfully intervened to give us new life.  Every Christian ought to think long and hard about this, because we have an inevitable and at times very worldly tendency to regard some ‘conversions’ as being more wonderful or amazing than others. ‘Miraculous’ we say when a famous celebrity is ‘born again’, and of course we are right.  But the miracle involved in the new birth of John or James Smith, whose name never appears in either Christian or secular press, is no less miraculous, no less wonderful and no less a cause of joy in heaven.  It involves the same exercise of divine power and the same abundance of God’s love.  What we need to do, therefore, if we would enter into the joys of our new birth is not to cast a glance over our shoulder enviously regarding the spiritual biography of another, but to search the Scriptures to see the rich measure of grace that God pours into every new child of God!

Guided by Thinking, Not Feeling

From a sermon by Alistair Begg on Christian living:

Now, in the divine order of things, God’s purpose is this: that our thinking was supposed to be informed and shaped and governed by his revelation. Okay? So that the way in which we think, in the purposes of God, was that we were supposed to “think God’s thoughts after him,”[5] as it has been said. And it is when we think on the basis of God’s revelation—what he has made known of himself and of his purposes—that we then inform and we influence and we direct our powers of volition. So it is as I learn to think correctly that I then bring my doing into line with my right thinking.

That’s why we’ve got such a dreadful predicament in evangelicalism, because by and large evangelicals don’t think! It’s not a feature of evangelical Christianity, thinking. You talk to people about issues, they don’t know the issues. They only know the heroes. And then they line up behind the heroes: “What did Mr. X say about it? Oh, I like him. I think I probably believe what he believes. Oh, no, I like him a little better. I think I believe what he believes.” But they don’t think the issues out. And it is imperative that our thinking, then, constrains our doing. And that’s, you see, what transforms it all.

That’s why the hymn writer says, if I may pause for a moment, “’Tis what I know of thee, my Lord and God, that fills my heart with praise, my lips with song.”[6]Now, this isn’t the same as saying, “I just want to praise you, lift my hands and say I love you.”[7] Because as I’ve mentioned to you before, the circumstance of the hymn writer in the first instance may have been absolutely brutal. His job may have been lost, his marital existence may have been fractured, his children may have been a challenge to him. And if then he was going to allow the circumstances of his life to determine joy or sorrow, he has no chance in the world. So what then will grant to that individual stability? The answer is, “’Tis what I know of thee, my Lord and God, that fills my heart with praise, my lips with song.” In other words, it is his thinking that then determines his doing.

[5] Attributed to Johannes Kepler.

[6] Horatius Bonar, “Not What I Am, O Lord, but What Thou Art.” Paraphrase

[7] Arthur Tannous, “I Just Want to Praise You” (1984).

Faith Based on Evidence

I’ve been reading Sinclair B. Ferguson’s “Know Your Christian Life”  and really enjoying Ferguson’s clarity and gentleness.  He is a wonderful teacher.  He is careful to be true to his subject and he woos the reader.  At least he does that to me.  J.I. Packer’s comment on the book is telling:

Knowing is for living, especially Christian knowing and Christian living.  This principle permeates Sinclair Ferguson’s theological introduction to the Christian life.  Knowledge about God is not mere information to be stored in our brains.  It is truth to be acted on.

 With clarity and contagious enthusiasm, Ferguson expounds key biblical themes: grace, sin, faith, repentance and many more.  “Christian doctrines are life-shaping,” he explains.  “They show us the God we worship.”

…Here is theology ; but don’t be frightened.  Dr. Ferguson is an accomplished divine in the best tradition anywhere….What he presents to us is biblical theology and in its conclusions reformed theology, of the older, riper, wiser, deeper sort.”

From the chapter “Faith in Christ”:

What is Faith?

    Faith is a great biblical word, but its currency has been taken over, unfortunately, by religious language in general.  As we have seen, in Scripture faith is generally the living personal trust in Christ.  But it is common to hear other religions today described as ‘other faiths’ even although faith in the biblical sense may have no part to play in them.  Biblical faith is a much richer and fuller notion altogether, and consists of several elements.

(i) Knowledge

           Faith is dependent on what can be known about God.  Even more significantly, in the New Testament faith involves us in coming to knowledge of God himself.  This is the great joy which Christ shared with his Father in the High Priestly Prayer of John 17: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (Jn. 17:3)….

    All trust is ultimately dependent on knowledge.  The problem we have in allowing complete strangers to take possession of our belongings is just that we do not know them well enough to trust them!  But the knowledge involved in faith is not merely intellectual baggage, because true knowledge in the Bible invariably involves personal fellowship….This kind of knowledge does not mean that we analyse its object from a distance, scrutinizing it objectively and dispassionately.  It is the kind of knowledge that brings us into immediate contact with God himself.  There is no greater privilege open to man than knowing God and this is what is held out to us through faith.

(ii). Assent

    ….Believing in Christ means assenting to the truth about Christ as well as coming to know him.  In fact there is a sense in which we may come to believe against our wishes!  It was so with Saul of Tarsus and has been with multitudes since that they have come to faith despite their unwillingness, because the evidence which has persuaded them has proved to be so overpoweringly strong. We speak in ordinary life about a man being so trustworthy that we would be compelled to trust him against our will.  So B. B. Warfield wrote: ‘The conception embodied in the terms “belief”, “faith”, in other words, is not that of an arbitrary act of the subject’s; it is that of a mental state or act which is determined by sufficient reasons.’ ….and John Murray adds to Warfield’s suggestion:

Faith is forced consent.  That is to say, when evidence is judged by the mind to be sufficient, the state of mind we call ‘faith’ is the inevitable precipitate.  It is not something we can resist or in respect of which we suspend judgment.  In such a case faith is compelled, it is demanded, it is commanded….

I love that last paragraph.   The chapter closes with:

(iii)  Trust in Christ

This is the heart of faith….Faith means abiding in Christ (Jn.15:1-11); it means receiving Christ (Jn. 1:12) and therefore embracing him in total trust.

           Such trust is always a costly thing because it involves us in surrendering our lives to Christ.  That is why in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus does not speak simply of ‘faith’.  He speaks about following and about carrying the cross.  He does this to emphasize what faith involves.  It means the practical recognition that Jesus is the Lord of our lives.  It means forsaking everything for his sake.  It means sacrifice and service.

I think you can buy the book here.

 

 

“Your Kingdom Come”: A Present Dimension, A Progressive Discovery and a Permanent Display

 

Screenshot 2019-04-26 09.36.08.png Recently I was reminded that not all professing Christians who frequently pray The Lord’s Prayer understand what the phrase “your kingdom come” means.   This morning I read Alistair Begg’s explanation (which I very much agree with) in a series he is teaching on The Lord’s Prayer.

Begg:

[W]hen we think in terms of the kingdom of God, we think in terms of something that is vastly different from anything that we have ever encountered or will encounter in the pages of history. Many hymns have been written to this end. For example, quoting from one,

His kingdom cannot fail,

He rules o’er earth and heav’n;

The keys of death and hell

Are to our [Savior] giv’n:

[So] lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice!

Rejoice again, I say rejoice!

The psalmist, speaking in the same vein in 145:13, says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.”

…Now, in light of this we need to ask the question, what is it we’re asking for when we take up this phrase in our prayers, “Your kingdom come”?  Well, we can say at least this: that we are asking that God’s sovereign rule might increasingly be established in the hearts and lives of those who acknowledge him as King, and also in the lives of those who are presently living in rebellion against God and who are currently held captive by the powers of darkness.  Because one of the great distinguishing features of faith in Christ is that God has rescued us–and I’m quoting Colossians 1:13–“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and [he has] brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”  We are, then, if you like, the kids of the kingdom by grace and through faith.  And this dimension of the sovereignty of God we ought not to pass over too quickly–that in the phrase “Your kingdom come” we’re reminding ourselves of the fact that God is King, that he is sovereign over all; that, again as the psalmist puts it, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”–Psalm 115:3.  The psalmist, speaking in the same vein in 145:13, says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.”

…[W]hen you come to the Gospels, you discover that Jesus is going through the towns and villages, and he’s preaching the good news of the kingdom. And he is telling people, “There is a kingdom, and I’m the King.  You’re not in the kingdom, but if you will follow me, you may become a subject of the King and you may become part of the kingdom.”  And it is essentially this picture that we have in mind when we take this phrase and pray, “Your kingdom come.”  And in addressing that, it is important for us to keep in mind that the emphasis of Jesus–indeed, the striking emphasis of the whole Bible–is upon the spiritual and inward character of the kingdom of God and the way in which he rules in the lives of men and women.  Nowhere is this more clearly pointed out than in John 18, when Jesus, responding to Pilate’s question, says, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

…Now, when you think in these terms you discover that there is both a present dimension and a progressive discovery, and then finally a permanent display of God’s kingdom–a present dimension, a progressive discovery, and there will one day be a permanent display of the kingdom of God.

Listen to or read it all here.

He is Risen

 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.   For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.   For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  I Cor. 15:9-22

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won; Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise; Alleluia!
Christ has opened Paradise. Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King; Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now they sting? Alleluia!
Dying once, He all doth save: Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head; Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise; Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.  Alleluia!
Amen.