Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Three Most Distinctive Christian Doctrines

There is much that separates Christianity from every other religion, but I believe there are three doctrines that are the most distinctive and provide the greatest degree of separation from the other religions, and also from sects that call themselves Christian.  In fact, these three doctrines are foundational to other key doctrines of the Christian faith. These three doctrines are the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What the Gospel Offers Us

...to study the God of the gospel--the God who handed over his Son, who raised him up again, and who sent his Spirit into our hearts--is to be propelled toward the study of God's triune being, his divine attributes, his actions of creation and revelation, as well the divine purpose and plan for all things.  In the gospel we do not find a catalogue of human religious sentiments offered up for our perusal, no buffet of philosophical theories for us to snack on.  In the gospel there is no unearthing of relics and ritual to ponder like broken pottery pieces from a dead civilization, nor are we offered merely modern mantras promising nice things for nice people.  to the contrary, the gospel offers us much more, something much better than anyone could envision:  the gospel is the offer of God himself.  For in the gospel, God is the giver and gift all at once, a gift of life and love that comes by sharing in the life and love that is in his Son.  This is the God of the gospel, the God who commands the attention of all of our intellects, the God who pushes the boundaries of our imagination, the God who stimulates our creative energies in art and music and literature, and the only God worth singing and studying about.

Michael F. Bird
Evangelical Theology
Page 91

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

God and the Gospel

To hold the gospel in contempt is to hold God in contempt.  To disdain the gospel is to disdain God.  To reject the gospel is to reject God.  For God is the gospel, and the giver of the gospel.  He has given the gospel with the command to repent and believe (Mark 1:15).  To not believe the gospel is to disdain the gospel, to hold the gospel in contempt, and to reject the gospel; and reveals the heart's attitude toward God.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Understanding the Love of God-Part II

In Part I we saw how God has a particular and specific love for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He loves us with the same love with which He loves His Son. This is a familial love, a love that a father has for his own son. This familial love is not for those who are of the world, those who have not been adopted into the family of God, those who have not believed on Christ, His person and His finished work on our behalf. So let's see what else we can glean about this wondrous love of God.

His Particular Love is an Eternal Love

Remember when we were looking at the love of the Father for the Son and we saw that He loved both the Son and His own before the foundation of the world (John 17:24, Ephesians 1:4). This means that before time began God already loved us. God's love for us is from eternity past, so in the eternal mind of God there has never been a time when He did not love us. This fact should give all of us who belong to Him a security in our relationship with Him. It also highlights His unmerited grace in bringing us to Himself. Before we were born, and could do anything good or bad He already loved us with an everlasting love. His love for us has always been, it will always be, and everything connected with His purpose for us revolves around this eternal love with which He loves us. Why can we never be separated from His love, as was stated in Romans 8:32? Because His love for us will never cease! We see a picture of this in Jeremiah 31:3 The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness." The Lord is talking to Israel in this passage, but in it we see pictured His eternal love for those who are His own. Think about what it means that God has always loved you with the same love with which He has always loved His Son. Because God loves us with the same love with which He loves His Son, He would no sooner let us go than He would His own Son. What a humbling truth! At a minimum it should fill your heart with thanksgiving and humble your soul.

Additionally, if you think about how Romans 8:29... for those whom He foreknew He predestined... and Ephesians 1:4-5...In love He predestined us to adoption as sons...go together, you will see that to be foreknown is synonymous with being foreloved.  So, in the foreknowledge of God for those whom He would predestine to salvation, there was also present an eternal love for those very people.  So those who are His own, whom come to Him by faith in His Son, have been known and loved by God for all eternity.

His Particular Love is an Electing Love

I commented earlier that to be beloved is to be the object of a particular love or the particular object of someone's love. We are the beloved of God, and therefore we are the particular object of His love (those on whom He bestows His love), and the object of His particular love (the same love with which He loves the Son, a familial love). But there is also something that goes along with being His beloved. Let's look at some Scriptures together to see what that is.

Ephesians 1:4b-5a In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:12a So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved....
II Thessalonians 2:13-14 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Thessalonians 1:4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;
Jude 1:1 Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

Did you notice that God has only called beloved His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and those whom He has chosen beforehand for salvation. He calls no one else beloved.  Did you also notice the connection between love and predestination; being beloved and being chosen, called, and kept. Because we are the particular objects of His particular love (His beloved), He chose us out of the world unto Himself, and has given us to His Son. This particular love is a love of choice, not compulsion. He chose to set His affection upon us, and the result of this is His drawing of us to Himself. He loves whom He chooses and He chooses whom He loves, and those who are not loved with this particular love are not predestined for salvation, they are not chosen, called, or kept. We see that He only saves those on whom He has set His particular love, this eternal love, which is the same love with which He loves His Son.  This is all done in accordance with the kind intention of His will to accomplish His eternal purpose, which God the Father carried out in Christ the Son.

When we start contemplating this we soon bump the ceiling of our understanding. And that is okay. This causes many questions to come up, the foremost of which is, "Why did God choose to love me, and therefore save me, and not person X?" One day we will know fully as we have been fully known, but until that time we can be in rapt wonder of the greatness of the mind of God, and how incomprehensible His ways are. This truth is transcendent, one that is above and beyond us and our rational capabilities. Suffice it to say that there is enough here to cause us to bow low before Him in holy reverence and awe. It is truths like this that set God apart as God, and let us know that He is truly a God who is deserving of all worship.

His Particular Love is a Saving Love

Because we are loved with a particular love, God has chosen us, and because He has chosen us we are saved. To be loved with this particular love is to be chosen, selected out of the mass of humanity headed for hell, for salvation. The outcome of this love is our salvation, our deliverance from the penalty, power, and ultimately, the presence of sin. The wages of sin is death, and the consequence of sin is the just judgement of a holy God. However, we see this in Ephesians 2:2-7... But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus... Apart from the love of God we would not know salvation. In His choosing to love us our salvation was guaranteed and our eternal state was fixed. I am reminded of a statement by A. W. Pink to the effect that the crucifixion of Christ did not make our salvation possible, it made it certain.

II Timothy :8b-9 ...according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. The love of God is most manifest in the person of Christ, and it is through the person and work of Christ that He has brought salvation to those whom He has set His great love upon. God's love for His beloved is in accordance with His eternal purpose which has been carried out in Christ. 

Christian friends, rejoice and be glad, be thankful and worshipful, that God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation. Marvel at the wondrous love with which you are loved by the Father. Give thanks to God for loving you so, for loving you with the same love with which He loved the Son, and for placing this saving love upon you.

Yes, there is a general love of God for all of mankind, and in God's love for mankind He has made salvation available to whosoever would turn from their sin, from seeking their own way, seeking their own desires, speaking their own word; and, in repentance and faith turn to the only One who can save, and ask Him to set His saving love on them.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Understanding the Love of God-Part I

 These next two posts are reposts from a few years back, which I thought would be good to repost.

Today I want to talk about the love of God, which, I believe, is the grandest theme in the Scriptures. The love of God is what has prompted Him to do all that He has done on our behalf. Yes, I know that ultimately all things are for His glory, but it is through His love that His glory is most vibrantly and visibly expressed. In I John 4:8 &16 we see that God is love. He doesn't possess love, but He is love; and that love is manifested in, an oh so tangible way, in and through the person of Christ. So let's press on to know more fully this love which is part and parcel of the very nature of God. It is part of who He is and cannot be separated from Him.

The general love of God

First, there is the general love of God for mankind. I know that there are those among our hyper-reformed brothers that will say that God does not love mankind, but only the elect, and that He is angry with the wicked every day. While it is true that God is angry with the wicked every day, it does not, and has not, kept Him from loving mankind. Let's look at some examples from Scripture.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Again, there are those who will say that this verse only applies to the elect, and if this verse were the only verse like it in the Scriptures, which it is not, then that argument might have some weight. However, the word for world here is kosmos. It is used 151 times in the NT and always means this created world, its order, or the people who inhabit it. Also, in this verse we see the word whosoever. It does not say for God so loved the elect, that they would believe in Jesus (even though that is true, and we shall see more on that later), but that God so loved the world that whosoever believes in Christ shall be saved. Whosoever is very clear in its meaning and it means anyone who will. A synonomous verse to John 3:16 is II Corinthians 5:19...God was in Christ reconciling the world (kosmos) to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (Compare this little section with Acts 17:30), and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. God has made reconciliation with Himself available to the world (unredeemed humanity). Why? Because God has a general love for mankind. It is also interesting to note here that the word for love used in John 3:16 is agapao, which is the word for love used in I John 4:8, 16. God can not deny Himself, or be other than He is, so we see this love of God revealed in His love for this world, and the people who inhabit it.

Additionally, let's look at Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us... The phrase, love for mankind, is one word in the Greek and that word is philanthropia, from which we get our word philanthropy. It is composed of two Greek words, phileo--which means brotherly love; and anthropos--which means mankind. This is a very specific word to denote God's charitable, benevolent love and kindly disposition for all of mankind. It is used only one other time in the NT and that is in Acts 28:2.

But, let's don't stop there, let's look at Matthew 5:43-48, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as you heavenly Father is perfect." Notice that Jesus is saying here that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, and to do that we must love not only those who love us, because even the most despised (tax collectors) do that; but also those who hate us and persecute us; and what is implied here is that God loves those who are His enemies (which He would automatically since He is love). So God does love the wicked, even those who are his enemies, which we all are until He saves us (Romans 5:10).

Finally, let's look at the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22. We all know the story about how he turned away from Christ because he did not want to give up his possessions. But what is interesting here is the attitude of Jesus towards this young man. Let's pick this story up in 10:21 Looking at him Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Here we see the heart of God, revealed through Christ, and His love (agape) for this one person, and how this love prompted Christ to reveal to this young man what was between him and heaven, even though He knew the young man would reject Him and walk away; and it is interesting to note here that even though Jesus felt a love for this young man, He let him walk away from Him and spurn His offer of salvation.

Because of God's love for this world, mankind, all those who are his enemies, and, yes, even individuals, He has made salvation available to all, by giving His Son, that whosoever believes in His Son will have life eternal. God is love, and He cannot be other than who He is, and we see His love for mankind revealed in these verses.

The particular love of God for His Son

However, there is another dimension to the love of God, and to understand that we need to look back into eternity past to see it. God gives us a glimpse of it in John 17:24 in the prayer of Christ, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, be with Me where I am so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." We see here that the Father has loved the Son, God the Father has loved Jesus the Son, since before time began. So for all eternity there has been the love of the Father for the Son. A father's particular love for his own son has always existed between God and Christ. Now we also see here that Jesus wants this love to be known by those whom God has given Him (the elect) as they will see it manifested in the glory bestowed on the Son by the Father when they are with Him.

We see this attitude of the Father towards the Son manifested in Matthew 3:17 For this is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. To be the beloved of someone is to be the particular object of their love, or the object of someone's particular love. We see this stated in a more distinct way in Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (literally, the Son of His love). The Son has always been the particular object of the love of the Father, so we can safely say that the Father has a particular love for the Son, and can understand that because we see it paralleled in this world by the particular love each father has for his own son. We see a manifestation of this love of the Father for the Son in John 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. So the Father loves the Son in different way than the Father loves the world as the Son is the beloved of the Father, He is the particular object of His love, and this love has always existed between the Father and the Son.

The particular love of God for those who are His own

How does God love us, those who belong to Him? We know He loves the world, he loves mankind, but how does He love us, those whom He has called out of the world. To understand this let's go back to John 17:23-24, 26. Again this is Jesus praying, "I in them and You in Me, that they maybe perfected in unity, so the the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with me where I am so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world...and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. It is important to note here that in verse 23 Jesus states that the purpose behind the unity of those who believe in Him would be that the world, the same kosmos that God loves with a general love, would know that not only that the Father sent the Son, but that the Father loves those who believe in the Son with the same love with which He loves the Son. The truth given here, that God loves those who believe in His Son with the same love with which He loves the Son is a staggering truth, one that is almost incomprehensible, and is surely inexplicable. It always causes me to pause and catch my spiritual breath. But, while contemplating this great and wonderful truth, we must also not miss the fact that God does not love the world with the same love with which He loves the Son, this love is only for those who place their faith in Christ Jesus.

The Familial love of God

As we have already seen in John 17 God loves us with the same love with which He loves the Son. Tie this in with Romans 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. We see that God's plan from before the foundation of the world was for those of us who name the name of Christ as our Savior to be the brethren of His Son, and that Christ was to have the place of preeminence as the firstborn of the sons of God. It is not those of the world who are the brethren of Christ, but only those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Therefore the love of God for the Son is only for those who are among the family of God.

This is said a little differently, but just as succinctly in I John 3:1. Notice how beautifully John expresses the richness of this truth. See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God, for such we are. The love of the family is reserved for those who are members of the family, and the familial love we see here upon the earth is a dim and imperfect expression of the familial love of God as we have been created in His image, and this image has been marred by sin. This familial love of God is lavishly and graciously bestowed only upon those who are His children and we never see in Scripture those of the world being called the children of the living God. It is only those whom God has called out of the world and place their faith in Christ who become His children.

This is said much more strongly and forcefully in Ephesians 1:4-5a just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world....In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself. This verse brings together all the other verses concerning our status as children of God and tells us how God went about making us His children and the brethren of Christ. We have been adopted. Even better, we see that the reason behind our adoption is the love of God. We know from John 17:24 that the Father loved the Son before the foundation of the world, and from this verse in Ephesians we see that we were also loved before the foundation of the world. What does this mean? It means that God loved us with the same love He had for the Son, that familial love, before the foundation of the world, and because of that love and out of that love He predestined us for adoption as his children. What a wonderful and deep truth to dwell upon, that from eternity past God loves us with the same eternal love with which He loves Jesus and the outworking of that love is our admittance into the family of God; and now we can get insight into why Paul could boldly cry out in Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It reminds me of Psalm 36:7-8 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They drink their fill of the abundance of your house; and You give them to drink of the river of your delights. Oh, the wonder and magnificence of it all!

To be continued

Saturday, February 01, 2014

A Preacher's Prayer for Sunday

Lord, let me not preach in the weakness
of my flesh, or with the babble of my own
words; but move me to preach in the
power of the Spirit, and with the authority
of Your Word.