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Category Archives: Christology (The study of Jesus Christ)

The word “Christology” comes from the two Greek words: Christos – meaning “anointed one,” and logos – meaning “study.” Christology is essentially the study of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

Tim Keller: 7 Applications of the Gospel in Ministry

Tim Keller seated image

These wonderful excerpts from a sermon on 1 Peter 1:1-12 and 1:22-2:12 were given in “The Spurgeon Fellowship Journal – Spring 2008.” I appreciate the wonderful abilities that Tim Keller has to explain, elucidate, and illuminate on the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is great food for thought here, and wonderful implications for living out the gospel in ministry – enjoy! – Dr. David P. Craig

Tim Keller on Gospel-Centered Ministry

I am here to talk to you about what ministry shaped by the gospel, profoundly shaped by the gospel, really looks like . . .

In this letter, Peter was not writing to the same type of situation Paul addressed in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul was writing into a situation where there were doctrinal fractions, divisions, and party divisiveness . . . Peter was speaking to a persecuted church – a church which was both passively and actively persecuted . . . they were being beset by a culture around them with very different values that they do not know how to relate to. So, of course, you can never divide the doctrinal from the practical issues. However, I would say that Peter here was less concerned about expounding on the content of the gospel as Paul was in 1 Corinthians 15. I’ll show how the gospel should shape the way in which we live, our ministry, and how the church operates as a community.

When I was looking through 1 Peter 1 and 2, I found seven features that Peter uses to describe the gospel . . . Since everything in these seven points has already been explicated in the previous sermon, I am simply going to draw out the implications for ministry. I am going to read a nice long section: 1 Peter 1:1-12, 1:22-2:12. Chapters one and two are remarkable at giving you all the features of the gospel and helping us to understand the ministry implications:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: may grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith— more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

 “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

I hate to do what I am about to do, which is a “fly-over.” I hate to go by some of these verses. These verses are deep wells, as we know. I know at least three or four men of God who would probably base their entire lives on one or two of these verses. I thought of Ed Clowney as I went by verses 2 and 9. Nevertheless, we are here for an overview. And therefore, I would suggest to you that Peter shows us in these two chapters that there are seven features of the gospel that we have to tease out of the ministry. I will say them here so you can write them down.

The gospel is: (1) historical, (2) doxological, (3) Christocentrical, (4) personal, (5) cultural, to quote Don Carson, (6) “massively transformational,” and (7) wonderful. Each one has a ministry implication.

(1) The gospel is historical . . . The word “gospel” shows up twice. Gospel actually means “good news.” You see it spelled out a little bit when it says “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Why do we say that the gospel is good news? Some years ago, I heard a tape series I am sure was never put into print by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was an evening sermon series on 1 Corinthians 15. He clarified how the Gospel is based on historical events in how the religion got its start. He said there was a big difference between advice and news. The Gospel, he would say, is good news, but not good advice. Here’s what he said about that: “Advice is counsel about something that hasn’t happened yet, but you can do something about it. News is a report about something that has happened which you can’t do anything about because it has been done for you and all you can do is to respond to it.”

So he says think this out: here’s a king, and he goes into a battle against an invading army to defend his land. If the king defeats the invading army, he sends back to the capital city messengers, envoys, and very happy envoys. He sends back good newsers. And what they come back with is a report. They come back and they say: It’s been defeated and it’s been all done. Therefore respond with joy and now go about your lives in this peace which has been achieved for you. But if he doesn’t defeat the invading army, and the invading army breaks through, the king sends back military advisers and says . . . “Marksmen over here and the horseman over there, and we will have to fight for our lives.”

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says that every other religion sends military advisers to people. Every other religion says that if you want to achieve salvation, you will have to fight for your life. Every other religion is sending advice saying, “here are the rites, here are the rituals, here’s the transformation of the consciousness and here are the laws and the regulations. Marksmen over here and horsemen over there and we are going to fight for our lives.” We send heralds; we send messengers and not military advisers. Isn’t that clarifying? It’s just incredibly clarifying. And it’s not like there’s nothing to do about it, my goodness. Both the messenger and the military adviser get an enormous response. One is a response of joy and the other one is a response of fear. All other religions give advice and they drive everything you do with fear . . . as you know, when you hear the gospel, when you hear the message that it’s all been done for you, it’s a historical event that has happened, your salvation is accomplished for you, what do you want to do? You

want to obey the Ten Commandments, you want to pray, and you want to please the one that did this for you.

If, on the other hand, military advisers say you have to live a really good life if you want to get into heaven, what do you do? You want to pray and you want to obey the Ten Commandments. It looks the same, doesn’t it? But for two radically different reasons: One is joy and the other one is fear. In the short run, they look alike. But in the long run, over here we have burn out and self-righteousness and guilt and all sorts of problems. And that’s fascinating.

But having said that, what’s the ministry implication? The ministry implication is this: the significance of preaching, of proclamation, of declarative preaching, is irreplaceably central in Gospel ministry. Declarative preaching is irreplaceably central.

Why? If basically we are sending people “how to”, if we are saying here’s the “how to” to live the right way, if that’s the primary message, I am not sure words are necessarily the best thing to send. You want to send a model. If I were to teach an advanced seminar on preaching (and I never have) I would make everybody read CS Lewis’ Studies in Words. It’s amazing because we are wordsmiths and he shows you how important it is to craft your words properly. The last chapter is called “At the Fringe of Language” and he says language can’t do everything. He says that one of the things language cannot do is describe complex operations. On the other hand, when it comes to describing how, to explain to somebody that Joshua Chamberlain, without any ammunition, charged down Little Round Top in an incredible, risky adventure at the height of the Battle of Gettysburg, and as a result changed the course of history. You don’t show people that, you tell them that. It’s something that happened, you describe it. You tell them that. If you are going to give them how-tos, very often what you want is modeling and dialogue, action and reflection and so forth.

Therefore, if you believe the gospel is good news, declarative preaching (verbal proclaiming) will always be irreplaceably central to what we do. However, if you subscribe to the assertion that the gospel is simply good advice on how to live a life that changes people and connects to God . . . dialogue would be alright. Stories and modeling and reflection would be more important. In other words, you would believe what some people would quip: “proclaim the gospel, use words if necessary”. You’ve probably heard that. That shows, I think, that they don’t quite understand what the gospel is all about.

(2) The gospel is Doxological. The purpose of the gospel is not merely forgiveness of individuals, but to bring people to full flourishing through glorious worship. Now where do you see that?

Karen Jobs, in her commentary of 1 Peter, points out what all commentators point out, but I like the way she titled it. Chapter 1 verse 3 to verse 12 is all one sentence in Greek. Therefore, there is a main clause. All that follows are subordinate clauses to the main clause. Here is the main clause: “Praise be to the God and Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”. She entitled the whole section, (and that’s what I like about it), “Doxology and Basis for the Christian Life,” because everything in there, even the new birth, is to the praise of the glory of God. Now why is this so important?

One of the most life-changing and especially ministry-changing things in my life was reading Martin Luther’s “Larger Catechism” a few years ago. In “Larger Catechism,” he lays out his understanding of the Ten Commandments. Luther says that the first commandment is first because (he thinks) all the other commandments are based on it. In other words, when you break any of the commandments two through ten, you have already broken or are in the process of breaking commandment one. So, Martin Luther says you don’t lie unless you have already made something else more than God your functional savior; something else is your greatest joy. Why do you lie? You lie either because the approval of other people is more important than God’s or because money is more than the security you have in God. So you wouldn’t lie unless you already have first made something else more important than God in your life . . . something more fundamental to your meaningless in life or happiness or joy. And then Luther went one step further and said underneath every sin is idolatry in general. And underneath every idolatry in general is always some form of work-righteousness in general, in particular some kind of self-salvation project . . . whenever you make something more important than God, that thing is essentially a savior of your making.

Martin Luther says of the first commandment, you have to believe the Gospel. You can’t look to anything else for your justification . . . you have to believe in the Gospel and you can’t look to anything else for your justification . . . If he were here today, he would say that underneath everything from eating disorders to racism is a self-salvation project, a failure to believe in the Gospel, and is some form of idolatry. You have either made an idol of thinness . . . or of your race and your blood . . . your heart’s imagination is captured. Your heart is essentially adoring and dotting on something other than God . . .

Some years ago . . . I was talking to a young woman, a fifteen year-old girl in my church in Virginia . . . she was really struggling and said this: “I really understand this, I am a Christian. I have clothed myself in the righteousness of Christ, I have a guaranteed place in heaven, and I am the delight of the Father. But what good is that when the boys in high school won’t even look at me?” She was absolutely honest. You might say: is she even a Christian? Of course she was a Christian, as far as I can tell. If I look back on it and she looks back on it, there have been changes. Here’s the point: boys were on video, and God was on audio . . . if you have an audio and video happening at the same time, you know which one wins. Right?

Jonathan Edwards would say that the ultimate purpose of preaching is not just to make the truth clear, but also to make it real. Of course for it to be real, it’s got to be clear. If it’s confused . . . sorry, no worship happens. But you can’t stop there. We are, I think, afraid of the spirit of the age, of subjectivism, because we believe in objective truth. As a result, our expository messages are too cognitive. Jonathan Edwards did not tell stories, he was incredibly rational. But he was also unbelievably vivid. He was incredibly logical, and precise, and clear because he knew that unless the truth is clear, it will never be real. It’s got to be crystal clear, amazingly clear. But it also has to be vivid.

I don’t think this is going to be very easy. I see the narrative preaching approach which works superficially on people’s emotions. And you have a kind of an expository preaching that tends to be like a Bible commentary that works more on the head. But the heart is not exclusively the emotions, and certainly not just the intellect . . . Therefore, the preaching has to be gripping . . .

What I love about Edwards is how incredibly rational he is, how logical and persuasive he is and yet at the same time, so vivid. You go into his messages and there’s the sun, the moon, and the stars. There are mountains and dandelions . . . it’s just astounding . . . he understood that telling stories to tweak the emotions, is like putting dynamite on the face of the rock, blowing it up and shearing off the face but not really changing the life.

One the other hand, if you bore down into it with the truth, and put dynamite in there, if you are able to preach Christ vividly, and you are able to preach the truth practically and you are able to preach it out of a changed life and heart in yourself (which obviously isn’t the easiest thing by any means) then when there is an explosion, it really changes people’s lives. I don’t think we have the right end of the stick in general, either in the movement of the people who are working towards telling stories because they want to get people emotionally or working towards giving people the truth because they want to be sure that people are doctrinally sound.

The Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was not a touchy-feely type . . . based on his understanding of Edwards, he asserts that the first and primary object of preaching is not to give information. It is, as Jonathan Edwards said, to produce an impression. This is the Doctor, now. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. Edwards, in my opinion, understood the true notion of preaching. It is not primarily to impart information . . . while you write your notes, you may be missing something that will impact your spirit.

As preachers, we must not forget this. We should tell our people to read books at home and to take notes at home; the business of preaching is to make such knowledge live. Now, by the way, I don’t mind if people are taking notes in my sermons, in the first part of the sermon. But if you are still taking notes at the end of the sermon, I don’t think that I have made it home . . .

Thomas Chalmers puts it like this:

“It is seldom that any of our bad habits or flaws disappear by a mere nature process of natural extinction. At least it is very seldom it is done by the instrumentality of reasoning or by the force of mental determination. What cannot be destroyed however may be dispossessed. One case may be made to give away to another and to lose its power entirely has the reigning affect of the mind. Here’s an example: A youth may cease to idolize sensual pleasure but it is because of the idol of wealth. The desire to make money has gotten ascendancy, so he becomes disciplined. But the love of money might have ceased to be in his heart if he was draw to ideology and politics. Now he is lorded over by the love of power and moral superiority instead of wealth. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. The human heart’s desire for one particular object is conquered. But its desire to have some object of adoration is unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of all its affection is by the explosive power of a new one. Thus is it not enough to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections, it is not enough to come forth with the demonstration . . . of the character of their enjoyment, it is not enough to just simply speak the conscience, to speak its follies. Rather, you must seek, as a preacher, every legitimate method of finding access to the heart for the love of Him who is greater than the world.”

(3) The gospel is Christocentrical. The gospel, as Don [D.A. Carson] pointed out, in a certain sense, the gospel is just Jesus. What is the gospel? It is who Jesus is and what He did for us. The Gospel is Jesus. Of course, you see this in 1 Peter 1:10 where it says, “About which salvation the prophets sought out and searched out, prophesying concerning the grace for you; searching for what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ made clear within them, testifying beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow.”

What’s intriguing to me is this: reading in Luke and Acts how Jesus got His disciples together during the forty days before He ascended after He was resurrected. What was He doing? I am sure He was doing more than what we are told. But if you look in Luke 24, it looks like He was giving them a New Testament hermeneutical seminar. This should give professors a lot of hope . . . even Jesus thought running a seminar on hermeneutics was a good idea! If he was running them in those forty days, maybe it is a good idea to run them now. Basically, He was saying that everything in the Old Testament points to Him . . .

He told Cleopas and the other disciples on the road to Emmaus and in the upper room that everything in the Prophets and the Psalms and the Law points to Him. It’s intriguing, we see that in Luke and now here in 1 Peter we have an echo of it. Peter was in on that seminar . . . now he is explaining that concerning this salvation, the salvation of the gospel of Christ, the Prophets had the Holy Spirit in them pointing them towards Jesus . . . Peter is saying what Jesus was saying . . . that everything pointed towards Jesus. Every text in the Old Testament was pointing toward Jesus.

Now my ministry implication is this: The basic subject of every sermon ought to be Jesus, regardless of what passage is at hand. It doesn’t matter whether it is Old or New Testament; it’s got to be about Jesus. By the way, you might say this is only about Old Testament hermeneutics; no, you need to know that my friend Sinclair Ferguson says most evangelical ministers don’t preach Christ. Not only do they not preach Christ in the Old Testament . . . they don’t preach Christ in the New Testament. I will get back to this in a second.

I know this is somewhat of an internal debate here and I’ve got to be careful. I don’t want to be a party guy and say, “I follow Chapell, or I follow Goldsworthy.” And you know there are people who say that you preach everything in the Bible pointing to Jesus and there are other good men that just don’t think that’s right. You shouldn’t preach Christ from Jacob wrestling with God . . . you should preach about wrestling with God in prayer or suffering or something like that. Honestly, I believe those good and sincere men are wrong on the basis of reading the Bible and the understanding of hermeneutics and so on.

But part of this goes back, I remember, some years ago, to when I sat down with my wife. You know what that’s like – on the way home – after the sermon. First you are hoping she will say: “Great sermon, honey.” But if she doesn’t say anything, you fear the worst. I remember one day we really got into it. I said, “Let me ask you, how often do you think it was a great sermon? How many weeks out of the month?” And she said “no more than one in every four or five weeks.” So, we sat down and here’s what she said: “For a good part of your sermon, your sermons are great. They are rational and biblical, and they are exegetical. They show me how I should live, and what I should believe. But every so often – suddenly at the end – Jesus shows up. And when Jesus shows up, it suddenly becomes not a lecture but a sermon for me, because when you say this is what you ought to do, I think to myself, ‘I know, I know, okay. Now I am a little clearer about it and I am a little more guilty about it. Fine.’ But sometimes you get to the place where you say, ‘This is what you ought to do, though you really probably can’t do it; but there is one who did. And because He did it on our behalf, and because He did it in our place, we believe in Him. We will begin to be able to do it.’” This is true only to the degree that we understand what He did for us. And she says: “That’s different. One time out of four or five, your lecture becomes a sermon when Jesus shows up and I want to do that. I have hope. And I begin to see how I can do it.”

I really didn’t understand . . . but basically, now I do. Here’s the thing. Your preaching will never be doxological and it won’t be central unless it is Christocentric. Here’s why: if you tell people they need to be generous, and ask why they aren’t being more generous . . . I happen to know about people being generous. Sometimes you don’t know about the lust in someone’s heart week to week, but you know if people are being generous week to week.

Why aren’t people being more generous? Are they just being sinners? Let’s go back to Martin Luther. Let’s go back to the catechism. If you are not being generous, then there is something going on there, is there not? You are saying your status or your security, which is based on money, is very important to you. You need to be able to buy certain cloths and live in certain circles and go to certain places. Human approval, security, there’s idols underneath the lack of generosity. The money is more than just money. It’s security, it’s significance, it’s status. You’ve got to make more money, and then you will give it away.

How do you do that? You have to show that Jesus Christ is their true wealth. You have to show them what their idols are. You have to get to Jesus. As a result, if you don’t get there, you are going to find that you are wailing on people’s wills. You are beating on wills. Sinclair Ferguson wrote a book . . . called Preaching Christ in the Old Testament. And this is what he says: Not only do most ministers not preach Christ in the Old Testament; they don’t preach Christ from the New Testament. The preacher has looked into the text, even in the New Testament, to find himself and the congregation . . . not to find Christ. You can do this even in the New Testament, in the Gospels. The sermon, therefore, is consequently about the people in the Gospels and not the Christ in that Gospel. The more fundamental issue is this question: What is the Bible really about? Is the Bible basically about me and what I must do or is it about Jesus and what He has done? Is the Bible about the objective and indicative?

Here’s an example. Hermeneutics is important. You can’t just find Jesus in every little twig. And there needs to be a way where you are following the trajectory of the text no matter what that text is to Jesus. You have to show how Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of that particular trajectory of the text. You’ve got to be responsible. And yet, like Sinclair said, it’s more like an instinct. It’s not so much just the right hermeneutical principles; it’s an instinct. Do you believe the Bible is basically about you or basically about Him? Is David and Goliath basically about you and how you can be like David and Goliath or about Him, the One that took on the only giants in life who can kill us? You see. And His victory is imputed on us. Who is this all about? That’s the fundamental question.

And when that happens, you start to read the bible anew. Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden. His garden is a much tougher garden and his obedience is imputed on us. Jesus is the true and better Abel, who though innocently slain has blood that cries out: not for our condemnation but for our acquittal. Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answers the call of God, who leaves all the familiar comforts of the world into the void, not knowing where He went. Jesus is the true and better Isaac who is not only offered by his father on the mount but who was truly sacrificed for us all. While God said to Abraham: “Now I know you truly love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.” Now we, at the foot of the cross, can say to God: “Now we know you love us because you did not withhold your Son, your only Son, whom you love, from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob, who wrestled and took the blows of justice that we deserved so we like Jacob only receive the wounds of grace that wake us up and disciple us. Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who is at the right hand of the king, and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them. Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between the people and the LORD and mediates the new covenant. Jesus is the true and better rock of Moses who struck with the rod of God’s justice now gives us water in the desert. Jesus is the true and better Job, He is the truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for and saves His stupid friends. Is that a type? That’s not typology. That’s an instinct.

Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes the people’s victory even though they didn’t lift a stone to accomplish it themselves. Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost ultimately the heavenly one, who didn’t just risk His life but gave His life, who didn’t say if I perish I perish but when I perish, I perish for them . . . to save my people. Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so we can be brought in. He’s the real Passover Lamb; He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true life, the true bread. The Bible is not about you. And that’s an instinct.

Until that shows up in your sermons, it will be lectures and not sermons. It won’t be doxological, it won’t be central.

(4) The gospel is personal and individual. Don [D.A. Carson] already said this. In 1 Peter 1 and 2, we see a lot of references to the new birth. What does the new birth mean – think about the metaphor of the birth – you can’t make yourself a Christian? You can make yourself a Buddhist. You can make yourself a Muslim. You can make yourself an Atheist. But you can’t make yourself a Christian. To become a Christian, you have to be converted . . . notice that’s a passive. You don’t convert yourself, something happens to you. Through faith you’re born again. You are confronted with you sin in front of a holy and jealous God. And you see the provision. Now, that’s individual conversion. This is very important, at this moment, in all our lives as Christians, especially in North America, but I am sure in other places as well. There is an erosion in the confidence of the thing that I just said. It is the idea that we have sinned against a holy and jealous God, the wrath of God has to be satisfied, Jesus Christ stood in our place, substitutionary atonement is provided, and when we believe in this, both in His suffering and obedience is imputed to us . . .

J.I. Packer, in his little chapter on grace in Knowing God, said there are two things you have to know in order to understand the concept of grace. Grace isn’t the opposite of Law. First of all, you have to understand how lost you are, how bad you are, how dire your condition is, and how big the debt is. You have to understand that . . .

Now if somebody says, “I believe Jesus died for me, He shed His blood for me and I have given my life to Christ. I accepted Him; I walked forward and invited Him into my life,” but you don’t see any change in that person’s life, you don’t see identify shifting, behavior transformation and joy, what’s the problem? It’s clear that this person doesn’t understand the size of the debt, and therefore the size of the payment . . . Jim Packer used to say to understand grace, and for grace to be transforming, first you have to understand the debt.

The second thing you have to understand, besides the size of the debt, is the magnitude of the provision. There are people who do understand that they are pretty bad. They do understand how flawed they are. They do understand how far short they fall. But they aren’t convinced of the magnitude, sufficiency, freeness, and fullness of the provision. They may only believe that Jesus died the death that we should have died. And maybe they also don’t believe Jesus lived the life that we should have lived . . . And you also see Pharisees – people who are really under the burden of guilt. As a result, they are withdrawn and hostile and moralistic and legalistic. And we look at these two groups of people and the evangelical world is filled with them. Easy-Believeism is really deadly. The Cost of Discipleship book by Bonhoeffer explains why Easy-Believeism was the reason Nazism could come into power. That’s pretty dangerous. Why Easy-Believesim? Why the Moralism? Because they don’t understand the gospel; the old gospel, the historic gospel. The gospel of salvation by grace through faith and the work of Jesus Christ alone, and substitutionary atonement . . . they don’t get it.

So what’s the solution to all the Easy-Believeism? Why is it that we don’t have people living the life they ought to live? Why do we see people culturally withdraw, being really negative and narrow? Because people think the solution is “let’s change the gospel” . . . I can’t imagine that anybody is going to write a hymn that goes like this: “my chains fell off and my heart was free, I rose forth and followed thee.” It’s just not going to happen . . .

(5) The gospel is cultural. What do I mean by cultural? The gospel creates a culture called The Church. It’s not just an aggregation of saved individuals. It’s a culture. The gospel is so different in what it says about God, you, and your standing with God. It’s so identity transforming; every other religion or system motivates you through fear and pride to do the right thing. Only the gospel motivates you through joy . . . the fear and trembling joy . . . the fear of God joy. That doesn’t mean that now we are a bunch of saved individuals with wonderful internal fulfillment. It means that when we get together we want to do things differently. We will do everything differently. The gospel is massively transformational and it creates a counter culture but it also makes us as people relate to the culture around us. And this comes out especially in 1 Peter 2. I will be brief on this but it’s crucial.

Those of us who believe in that individual gospel often miss the communal aspects of the gospel. And in 1 Peter 2:12, he says “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Right before this, he says, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers.” In 1 Peter 1:1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world.” There’s been a lot of discussion about this. There’s pretty much a consensus. The word “strangers” there means not a tourist who’s just passing through the world briefly, but not a citizen of the world either. Somebody who’s going to be there a long time whose true citizenship and value belongs somewhere else.

Peter makes an amazingly balanced statement and we have to understand this. The gospel, I believe, is radical. The nature of the gospel, on the one hand, does say “you need to engage” to the legalists who are afraid to be polluted by the culture and have the tendency to bolster their fragile sense of righteousness by feeling superior to the sinners around them. On the other hand, the gospel also confronts the secular, irreligious, liberal Christian, who asserts that we really can’t believe in sin or the holiness of God and hell because it offends people.

The gospel says that there are dangers on both sides: cultural accommodation, culture withdrawal. Most of us as Christians today think that most of the dangers today are on one side. We tend to get together with a group of people and say: the main danger, the main danger today is cultural accommodation. On the other side, there are Christians who think the main danger is cultural isolation and irrelevance. No one will see the good deeds of those who withdraw from the world and just hate the world. They don’t glorify God. They are not involved with caring for the poor; they are not engaged. On the other hand, people who accommodate the culture are never persecuted. How do we know that the radical gospel is turning us into a counter-culture for the common good? This counter-culture should be distinct, very different from the side we have inside of us, but a side that shows that we love the world and care about the world. We love our enemies because we are saved by a man who died loving His enemies.

Therefore, this balance is awfully hard to maintain. In Jeremiah 29, the exiles, wanted to stay outside of Babylon and remain pure. The Babylonians wanted to come in to Babylon, and lose their cultural identity. God told them through Jeremiah to do the hardest thing possible. In a sense, He said, “I don’t want you to stay out and be different. I don’t want you to go in and become like them. I want you to go deeply in and stay very different.” And that’s exactly what 1 Peter is talking about. Peter calls them exiles. He knows that the relationship with the culture around them has to be the same relationship as the Jewish exiles had with the Babylonians. We need to seek the welfares of the city. We need to care about that. We need to follow in the footsteps of the one who serves His enemies and forgave His enemies and died for His enemies.

At the same time, we have to be telling people that they are going to hell. Now, generally speaking, by and large, the people who want to be prophetic don’t want to be priestly. The people that want to talk about going to hell do not just sacrificially pour out themselves and say we are going to love you and we are going to serve you, whether you really like what we do or not. And the people who are serving like that are afraid of talking about things like hell or wrath. I don’t know whether we can become a movement of people who understand what 1 Peter is saying: that the gospel creates a counter culture, but a culture that engages the community around us at the expense of persecution . . .

New Yorkers love what the Bible says about forgiveness and reconciliation and caring about the poor. They hate what it says about sex and gender and family. Go on to the Middle East and find people who love what the Bible says about sex and gender and family, but abhor the idea of forgiving people, 70 times 7. I think what 1 Peter 2:12 is trying to say is in every single culture, if you actually live distinctively in an engaged way, you will get persecution AND you will get approval. It will always be different depending on the culture. You will attract people, you will influence people. You will be salt and light and at the same time you will get punched in the mouth.

If you are only getting punched in the mouth, or if you are only getting praise, you are not living the gospel life. Either you are falling into legalism and withdrawal or you are falling into accommodation.

(6) The gospel is massively transformational. When I say the gospel is massively transformational, I am just saying the gospel creates a worldview, a basis of worldview that actually touches every area of life; the way you do business, the way you do art, the way you conduct your family life. What do I mean when I say the gospel is wonderful? 1 Peter 1:12, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

Angels love to look into the gospel. They never get tired of it. So what does that mean? It means gospel ministry is endlessly creative. It means you can preach the gospel and never have to be afraid of boring people . . .

(7) The gospel is wonderful. Isn’t that amazing? The gospel is not the ABC’s of Christianity, it’s A to Z. It’s not just the elementary and introductory truths. The gospel is what drives everything that we do. The gospel is pretty much the solution to every problem. The gospel is what every theological category should be expounding when we do our systematic theology. It should be very much a part of everything.

Even angels long to look into it. And you should. Let’s pray.

About Dr. Tim Keller: He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world. He is the author of a study of Mark entitled King’s Cross; The Prodigal God based on Luke 15; The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness; Generous Justice; Counterfeit Gods; Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho RoadThe Meaning of Marriage; a wonderful small group study entitled Gospel In Life; and the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God; & the forthcoming Center Church (August 2012). Tim has a passion for Jesus Christ, making the Gospel clear, church planting, and reaching cities for Christ. If you really want to understand the gospel, and how grace applies to all of life I urge you to devour his books and sermons!

 

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Tim Keller – Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World: Adoring Christ: Spiritual Reality

Personal Notes from a Lecture by Dr. Tim Keller

Keller T preaching

The goal of the sermon is to get people to worship Jesus.

A sermon isn’t a sermon until you call people to adore Christ. A sermon is a lecture when Christ is not adored.

Willow Creek approach: ‘You can evangelize non-Christians or edify Christians’

Conservative approach: ‘All people need to worship through the same material’

If you preach Christ you’ll be evangelizing and edifying at the same time.

Post-modern people like to know how Christianity works.

PM people try on Christianity as a dress. They’ll try it out to see if it works.

You can only change a person’s life by changing what they worship and how they worship.

Text, Context and Subtext

Be clear about the text, context and subtext

1) The text: know what the text is saying. Be clear on theology

2) The context: know how to present the text to the people

3) The subtext: have the right heart for the text (Christ) and the right heart for the context (people)

4 types of subtext

1) Social Reinforcement

The purpose of the sermon is to say: ‘Aren’t we great’

The preacher builds community and belonging by using familiar language and over endorsing the goodness of the church

‘We’re here to remind ourselves that we are unique people’

2) Selling

Promotion the products of the church

‘Don’t you feel that this is a great church’?

‘See how worthy I am of your respect’

The sermon is trying to give teaching to win people over to the individual church

3) Training

The purpose of my sermon is to teach people things they don’t know

‘I want to inform you of things you don’t know’

4) Worship

This subtext points to Christ and says ‘Isn’t He great?’

‘Don’t you see that your problems are rooted in that you don’t worship Christ?’

Spiritual Reality and Edwards

Religious Affections by Jonathon Edwards:

We have always done what we wanted to do.

Edwards argued that there is no ultimate opposition between head and heart. The heart always leads the will to act. Actions are grounded in emotions- always!

‘I know God cares for me but I can’t help but feel unloved.’ Edwards would say ‘You clearly don’t know that God cares for you. You haven’t felt that reality. Once you feel that God cares you’ll act as if God cares.’

Acting directly on the will doesn’t really work. We need to aim for the heart.

If someone is not being generous it’s due to sinful emotions. It’s because their hearts find something more attractive than Christ. Once people really see and feel 2 Cor 8:9 giving becomes frequent and a happy experience!

Sensing Christ only way to motivate the will. The task of the preacher is to present the beauty of Christ so that He becomes the object of our hearts greatest affection. Presenting Christ as more excellent than everything will weaken the Christians love for things other than Christ.

‘Excellency is that which is appreciated and rested in for its own sake.’- Edwards

The nominal Christian is someone who finds grace useful to get the things that the heart finds excellent and beautiful. Christ should not be the means to the end. He is the end!

Spiritual reality is more than rational conviction.

TWO-fold knowledge of good according to Edwards:

1) That which is notional- understanding something rationally

2) That which is pleasing to the heart- delighting in Him

You can rationally know that honey is sweet without feeling it. You can’t feel that honey is sweet unless you rationally know it’s sweet.

5 tips for heart preaching

1) Use reason- be clear and logical

2) Use analogical illustrations- relate the truth to another discourse. Doing this engages the senses

3) Use narrative- use stories

4) Transfer the affections of the people from sin to Christ- show that sin is not satisfying- show people that Christ’s beauty satisfies

5) Worship as you preach- show the people that you are sensing Christ – taste the food that you’re feeding to the children

Our problem: we forget spiritual knowledge.

2 Peter 1:8-9 is not talking about someone who has forget that they are saved. Rather the Christian here is not being continuously refreshed with Christ.

Video is more attractive than audio. The Bible sometimes can go straight to audio- it is heard and not fully experienced. We need to see Christ on video – this is to experience Him.

We worship when we treasure God- when we find Him more beautiful than anything else.

 

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Tim Keller: Preaching the Gospel in a Postmodern World: Session 7 Notes

GETTING DOWN TO EARTH: PART III

Tim Keller preaching image

Preaching and Pastoring on Idols – BY DR. TIM KELLER

INTRODUCTION

‘Idolatry’ is a major theme for ‘what ails’ us. It is there all through the Bible as a or the unifying way to describe what is wrong with us—psychologically, intellectually, sociologically, and culturally. But again, the word itself is fairly rare in the NT, but once we get a beat on some key texts and some key words, we will see how pervasive concept is. And if it is the main way to understand what is wrong with us—a pastor, a physician of souls, can’t possibly ignore it.

A. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY – OLD TESTAMENT

The whole story of the Bible—at least in the OT, can be seen as a struggle between true faith and idolatry.

1. In the beginning—idolatry

In the beginning, human beings were made to 1) worship and serve God, and then 2) to rule over all created things in God’s name (Genesis 1:26-28). Instead, we “fell into sin”. But when Paul sums up the “fall” of humanity into sin, he does so by describing it in terms of idolatry. He says we refused to give God glory (i.e. to make him the most important thing) and instead chose certain parts of creation to glorify in his stead. “They exchanged the glory of the immortal God…and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator” (Romans 1:21-25). In short, we reversed the original intended order. Human beings came to 1) worship and serve created things, and therefore 2) the created things came to rule over them. Death itself is the ultimate emblem of this, since we toil in the dust until finally the dust rules us (Gen. 3:17-19).

2. The Law—against Idols

The great sin of the Mosaic period is the making of a golden calf (Exodus 32). The 10 commandments’ first two and most basic laws (one-fifth of all God’s law to humankind) against idolatry. 1st command is a prohibition against worshipping other gods; the 2nd command is  prohibition against worshipping God idolatrously, as we want him to be. And after God’s entire code of covenant behavior is given in Exodus 2—23, it ended with a summary warning not to make “a covenant with…their gods” (v. 32) lest they “snare you” (v. 33). So “idolatry” sums up all that God’s law is against. Just like Romans 1, Exodus does not envision any “third” option. We will either worship the uncreated God, or we will worship some created thing (an idol). There is no possibility of our worshipping nothing. We will “worship and serve” (Romans 1:25) something, and whatever we worship we will serve, for worship and service are always, inextricably bound together. Whatever most drives us is rooted in worship and whatever we worship drives us. Why? We are “covenantal” beings. We enter into covenant service with whatever most captures our imagination and heart. It “snares” us. Therefore every human personality, every human community, and every human thought-form will be based on some ultimate concern or some ultimate allegiance to something.

3. The Psalms—Praying against idols

In the Psalms, the adoration of the people is not only toward God, but also against idols. Psalm 24:3-4—“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol”…The “kabod” or glory of God is, quite literally, his weightiness, his supreme importance. But idols are good things which get more glory in our eyes than God. Therefore we cannot give God worship unless we identify and remove the idols of our heart. This theme is so crucial to John Calvin in his effort to renew worship biblically that his whole theology of worship has been called “the war against idols’.

4. The Prophets—Polemic against idols

Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, leveled an enormous polemic against the worship of idols. a) First, an idol is empty, nothing, powerless. The idol is nothing but what we ourselves have made, the work of our own hands (Is. 2:8; Jer. 1:16). Thus an idol is something we make in our image. It is only, in a sense, worshipping ourselves, or a reflection of our own sensibility (Is. 44:10-13). It has no ability or power of its own (Is. 41:6,7); it will eventually rot (Is. 40:20); b) But second, (paradoxically) an idol is a spiritually dangerous power which saps you of all power. This is a triple paradox. Idols are powerless things that are all about getting power. But the more you seek power through them, the more they drain you of strength.

(1) First, the idol brings about terrible spiritual blindness of heart and mind (Is. 44:9, 18). The idolater is self-deluded through a web of lies (Isaiah 44:20). When we set our ‘worship apparatus’ in our hearts upon something smaller than the true God, it produces a ‘delusional field’ which causes us to live in deep denial of the truth and reality. We deny how important the idol really is to us, yet we deny how impotent the idol really is. Also, we deny the bad effects it is having on us.

(2) Second, the idol brings about slavery. Jeremiah likens our relationship to idols as a love addicted person to his or her lover (Jer. 2:25). Once we have come to believe that something will really make us happy, then we cannot help ourselves—we must follow our God. Idols poison the heart into complete dependence on it (Isaiah 44:17); they completely capture our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-5).

Sum: So the OT is understood as a grid of idolatry. God is king, but we tried to keep control and power worshipping and serving created things. They in turn, set up a kingdom of darkness that blinds and enslaves. The prophets say that someday, the King will return and free us. But we can’t read the NT through the grid of idolatry, can we? If is seldom mentioned. And moreover, idolatry is not relevant at all for us today, is it?

B. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY – NEW TESTAMENT

It is typical to think that “idolatry” is mainly an OT phenomenon, but closer examination shows that it is not. A couple of texts provide clues to the fact that pervasive human idolatry was assumed by the New Testament writers.

1 John 5:21

The last verse of 1 John is: “Beloved, keep yourself from idols”. Now idolatry has not been mentioned by John by name once in the entire treatise. So we have to conclude one of two things, Either 1) he is now, in the very last sentence, changing the whole subject (perhaps as an afterthought, but then he does nothing to elaborate or explain his meaning at all)! Or 2) he is summarizing all he has been saying in the epistle about living in the light of (holiness), love, and truth. I think the latter is more reasonable—but the implications are significant. John, in one brief statement, is putting in the negative what he had spent the whole letter putting in the positive. This must mean that the only way to walk in holiness, love, and truth is to keep free from idols. They are mutually exclusive. Under any failure to walk in holiness is some form of idolatry.

Galatians 4:8-9

In these two verses Paul reminds the Galatians that they had once been enslaved “to those who by nature are not gods. But…how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?” I know that “stoichea” referred to here are much debated, and I won’t go into them here. But it seems safe to assume that Paul is saying: don’t go back to idolatry. But wait! The Galatians may have once been idolaters in the sense of worshiping figures of metal and wood. But the danger in Galatians is following those who are telling them to be circumcised and who are trying to lure them into a biblical moralism, and clouding their understanding of justification by faith alone. So how can he talk of this as a return to idolatry? The implications are again significant. If anything but Christ is your justification—you are falling into idolatry. If you sacrifice to a statue, or seek to merit heaven through conscientious biblical morality—you are setting up something besides God as your ultimate hope and it will enslave you.

1. Idolatry is at the root of all sin—in fact, it is the only way to understand sin.

Galatians 4:8-9 sheds light on the classic text of Romans 1:18-25. This extensive passage on idolatry is often seen as only referring to the pagan Gentiles, but instead we should recognize it as analysis of what sin is and how it works.

v. 21 tells us that the reason we make idols is because we want to control our lives, though we know that we owe God everything. “Though they knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to him.”

v. 25 tells us the strategy for control—taking created things and setting our hearts on them by building our lives around them. Since we need to worship something, because of how we are created, we cannot eliminate God without creating God-substitutes.

vv. 21 and 25 tells us the two results of idolatry: (1) deception—“their thinking became futile and their hearts were darkened” and (2) slavery—“they worshipped and served” created things. Whatever you worship you will serve.

No one grasped this better than Martin Luther, who ties the OT and NT together remarkably in his exposition of the 10 commandments. Luther saw how the OT law against idols and the NT emphasis on justification by faith alone are essentially the same. He said that the Ten Commandments begin with two commandments against idolatry. Then comes commandments three to ten. Why this order? It is because the fundamental problem in law-breaking is always idolatry. In other words, we never break commandments 3-10 without first breaking 1-2. But why would this be? Luther understood that the first commandment is really all about justification by faith, and to fail to believe in justification by faith is idolatry, which is the root of all that displeases God.

“All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all the prayers, obedience, patience, and chastity of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham, show and pretense, with nothing back of them…If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior]…(Part X. XI) Excerpts from Martin Luther, Treatise Concerning Good Works (1520).

Here Luther says that failure to believe God accepts us fully in Christ—and to look to something else for our salvation—is a failure to keep the first commandment, namely, having no other gods before him. To try to earn your own salvation through works-righteousness is breaking the first commandment. Then he says that we cannot truly keep any of the other laws unless we keep the first law—against idolatry and works-righteousness. Thus beneath any particular sin is this sin of rejecting Christ-salvation and indulging in self-salvation.

Sum: The Bible does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and thus not a very rare sin only among primitive people). Rather, the only alternative to true, full faith in the living God is idolatry. All our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are due at root to idolatry—something we make more important than God. There is always a reason for a sin. Under our sins are idolatrous desires.

2. Idolatry is at the root of every heart—it is the only way to understand motivation

There is another word that is very common in the NT which has a strong link to the idea of idolatry. Once we make this connection, we can see an even deeper link between the NT concept of the heart and idolatry.

“If ‘idolatry’ is the characteristic and summary OT word for our drift from God, then ‘lust’ [inordinate desires], epithumiai is the characteristic and summary NT word for that same drift. (See summary statements by Paul, Peter, John, and James as Gal. 5:16ff; Eph. 2:3, 4:22; 1 Pet. 2:11, 4:2; 1 John 2:16; James 1:14ff, where epithumiai is the catch-all for what is wrong with us.) The tenth commandment [against ‘coveting’, which is idolatrous, inordinate desire for something]…also…makes sin ‘psychodynamic’. It lays bare the grasping and demanding nature of the human heart, as Paul powerfully describes in Romans 7…the NT merges the concept of idolatry and the concept of inordinate, life-ruling desires…for lust, demandingness, craving and yearning are specifically termed ‘idolatry’ (Eph. 5:5 and Col. 3:5).” – David Powlison in Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair

The author explains here how idolatry moves us to disobedience and sin. He says that unless we believe the gospel and look to the Lord for our salvation, we will look to some idol, and idolatry always leads to ‘overdesires’. For example, if we believe we will only be significant if we make a lot of money, we will be in the grip of an over-desire, “drivenness”, to succeed in our work.

This is why we can say that beneath the breaking of any commandment is the breaking of the first. Every sin is rooted in the inordinate lust for something which comes because we are trusting in an idol rather than in Christ for our righteousness or salvation. Therefore, in sin we are always ‘forgetting’ what God has done for us in Christ and instead are being moved by some idol.

This is also why the word “epithumia” (for idolatrous, inordinate desires) shows up in all the NT places that treat Christian character, such as the “fruit of the Spirit” (see Galatians 5:22ff.). It is possible to have a Pharisaical or superficial compliance with God’s law, but out of works-righteousness. This is obedience to the rules, but out of false motives and bad heart-character.

“Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation.” – Belgic Confession 24

The Belgic Confession here states that unless we believe the gospel, we will be driven in all we do—whether obeying or disobeying—by pride (“self-love”) or fear (“of damnation”). We may be obeying God, but we will be only seeking to manipulate him—get blessing from him—through our good works. We will not be obeying him out of delight in who he is in himself. So, apart from ‘grateful remembering’ of the gospel, all good works are done then for sinful motives. Mere moral effort, may restrain the heart, but does not truly change the heart into Christ-like character. Moral effort ‘jury rigs’ the evil of the heart to produce moral behavior, out of self-interest. It is only a matter of time before such a thin tissue collapses.

Sum: This means then, that idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. Why do we ever lie, or fail to love or keep promises or live unselfishly? Of course, the general answer is “because we are weak and sinful”, but the specific answer is always that there is something besides Jesus Christ that you feel must have to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God, something that is spinning out a delusional field and enslaving the heart through inordinate desires. So the secret to change (and even to self-understanding) is always to identify the idols of the heart.

3. Idolatry is at the root of all unbelief and, to some degree, every culture.

It is not only that idols are the basis for all personal sins and problems, but they are also the basis for all social and cultural sins and problems. When an individual makes and serves an idol, it creates psychological distortion and troubles; when a family, a group, or country makes and serves an idol, it creates social and cultural trouble.

When we read Paul in Ephesians and Colossians carefully, we see him talking about ‘powers’ that sometimes seem to be demons, but sometimes appear to be forces that we can convert and persuade. I think that what we see is an example of good things—government, business/capital, the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge—made idols and thus suffused with destructive (‘demonic’) power. The book of Revelation in particular shows how the state—something quite good in Romans 13—can become evil.

Intellectual and cultural idols stem not just from a disbelief in God but from a basic rejection of the basic gospel. if we reject the truth that all our problems come from a depraved heart, we will have to account for it by ‘demonizing’ some created thing as well as idealizing (ideologizing) of some other created thing. So romanticism demonized culture and idealized nature. Marxism demonized the rich and idealized economic and social factors. It believed that if we manipulated them properly, social problems would evaporate.

The following are a list of some of the more obvious social-cultural idols. (Please remember that what is written below are major generalizations. There are many different forms of socialism and capitalism, for example, which moderate and improve on the fundamental theme I mention. The idea is to show that most ‘ideologies’ are ‘idolatries’. These overlap. The first three are economic-political ideologies; the last two are intellectual-philosophical ideologies).

a. Fascism makes an idol out of one particular race or nationality of culture. It occurs when a culture teaches individuals to say “I am acceptable because I am of the ____race which is far better than ____race(s).” Closely associated with this is the idol of militarism and physical might for coercion. Christianity is neither culturally relativistic nor imperialistic. It knows that not all cultures are equally healthy, but that all cultures are deeply stained by sin and must be judged by the Lord.

b. Socialism makes an idol of the state. It occurs when a culture teaches that our main problems are at root only social, not spiritual and moral. This view relies overly or exclusively on government solutions to re-engineer society. Christianity understands that our problems are rooted in sin which effects both social systems and individual hearts and will make an idol neither out of government nor of private, individual initiative.

c. Capitalism makes an idol of the ‘market’. When a society comes to believe that most or all our problems will be solved by free market competition, it leads people to “worship” success, personal freedom, and the ‘almighty individual’. Today, even advocates of the free market recognize the ‘cultural contradictions of capitalism’, namely, that capitalism and consumerism undermine the very virtues of self-control and responsibility that gave it rise.

d. Relativism makes an idol out of one’s own individual conscience and inner feelings. When a society teaches people “you alone can determine what is right or wrong for you, as long as you don’t steal others’ freedom to have the same choice”, then it has made “choice” an absolute value, and the feelings of the heart a god.

e. Empiricism makes an idol out of nature and scientific investigation. It insists absolutely everything has a natural, scientific cause. Thus it believes science has an answer for everything and will open all doors.

f. Pluralism can make an idol out of the government, too. The government is apparently “neutral” toward religion and holds that truth is ‘relative’. But that means that no religion or faith has the right to call into question government practices.

“[When does the pursuit of a legitimate goal become idolatry, or ‘ideology’?] An ideology arises the moment the end indiscriminately justifies every means…Thus a nation’s goal of material prosperity becomes an idol [the ideology of materialism] when we use it to justify the destruction of the natural environment or allow the abuse of individuals or classes of people. A nation’s goal of military security [becomes an idol [the ideology of militarism] when we use it to justify the removal of rights to free speech and judicial process, or the abuse of an ethnic minority.] – Bob Goodzwaard—Idols of Our Time

But while idols are all about getting power through power and performance, the biblical God can only be approached through repentance—a loss of power. While idolatry is the attempt to manipulate God to obtain power and security/salvation for oneself or one’s group, the gospel is that we are saved by sheer grace, and thus we surrender ourselves in grateful love and become willing, sacrificial servants of everyone. We now become agents in God’s kingdom which comes full of justice and mercy to all who are suffering. The gospel is the end of ideologies.

Sum: At the root of all problems (personal or social), and of all non-Christian philosophies and ideologies is the elevation of some created thing to the place of ultimate worship and ultimate arbiter of truth and meaning.

“The principle crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry. For although each individual sin retains its proper feature, although it is destined to judgment under its own proper name also, yet they all fall under the general heading of idolatry…[All murder and adultery, for example are idolatry, for they arise because something is loved more than God—yet in turn, all idolatry is murder for it assaults God, and all idolatry is also adultery for it is unfaithfulness to God.] Thus it comes to pass, that in idolatry all crimes are detected, and in all crimes idolatry.” – Tertullian, On Idolatry Chapter 1

“A careful reading of the OT and NT’s shows that idolatry is nothing like the crude, simplistic picture that springs to mind of an idol sculpture in some distant country. As the main category to describe unbelief, the idea is highly sophisticated, drawing together the complexities of motivation in individual psychology, the social environment, and also the unseen world. Idols are not just on pagan altars, but in well-educated human hearts and minds (Ezekiel 14). The apostle associates the dynamics of human greed, lust, craving, and coveting with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). The Bible does not allow us to marginalize idolatry to the fringes of life…it is found on center stage.” – R. Keyes, “The Idol Factory” in No God but God

C. THE CONSTITUTION OF IDOLS

1. THE CONSTRUCTION OF IDOLS

a. Idols form into a system.

How do the particular idol-systems come to be formed in us? How do we come to have our specific idols?

The world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:16,17) are inextricably linked in their influences to produce idols in us. First, our “flesh”, our sinful heart is by nature an “idol factory” (as Calvin put it). Second, the “world”, our social environment, coaxes us into various idols by model and example and sometimes direct appeal. Our family’s idols, our culture’s idols, our classes idols shape us either when we embrace them or reject them for the idol-opposite. Third, the “devil” works in us to stir up and enflame desires into idolatrous bondages. If we leave out any of the three aspects, we will reduce behavior to either “Johnny is bad” or “Johnny is abused” or “Johnny is sick”. But all these approaches are simplistic compared to the Bible. None of our behavior is simply the result of only: a) our inherent nature, b) our environment, or c) our free choice. The Bible is not essentialist (“he was born that way, it is hopeless”), behaviorist (“he is a victim of what they did to him, it’s hopeless”), or existentialist (“it’s all a matter of his choice; he can be whatever he wants to be!”).

“How do we put together the following three things? First, people are responsible for their behavioral sins…Second, people with problems come from families or sub-cultures where the other people involved also have problems. We suffer and are victimized and misguided by the destructive things other think, want, fear, value, feel, and do…My problems are often embedded in a tight feedback loop with your problems…Third, behavior is motivated by complex, life-driving patterns of thoughts, desires, fears, views of the world, and the like, of which a person may be almost wholly unaware. How are we…responsible for our behavior [#1], socially conditioned [#2], and creatures whose hearts are twisted and complex all at the same time without any factor canceling out the others?

The social and behavioral sciences miss this…Human motivation is never strictly psychological [controlled primarily by my feelings] or psycho-social [controlled primarily by my environment] or psycho-social-somatic [controlled primarily by my biological genetic code]. Human motivation is always is always God-relational [we are controlled primarily by what we worship]. Seeing this, the Bible’s view alone can unify the seemingly contradictory elements in the explanation of behavior.” – D. Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair”

Idolatry can therefore be a useful way to understand very complex, pathological personal and relational patterns of life.

“The things frequently labeled ‘co-dependency’ are more precisely instances of ‘co-idolatry’. People’s typical idol patterns often reinforce each other and fit an uncanny way into a [single, large] idol system, creating massively destructive feedback loops. The classic alcoholic husband and rescuing wife are enslaved within an idol system whose components complement each other all too well:

[1] The idol pattern in the husband…might be a use of alcohol (a) to serve an idol of escape from the pains and frustrations in life, or (b) to serve an idol of self-crucifixion to deal with his periodic guilt and remorse…[2] The idol pattern in the wife…might be a use of rescuing behavior (a) to serve an idol of personal worth by being a martyred savior of her family, or (b) to serve an idol of security by having a male’s love and dependence on her.

Each of their idols (and consequent behavior, thoughts, and emotions) is ‘logical’ within the idol system…Idols counterfeit aspects of God’s identity and character…judge, savior, source of blessing, sin-bearer, object of trust…Each idol in the system ‘makes promises’ and ‘gives warnings’. Service to each idol results in a hangover of misery and accusedness, because idols lie and murder. They are continually insinuated by the one who as a liar and murderer from the beginning.”

“Co-dependency literature often perceptively describes the patterns of dysfunctional idols which curse and enslave people (e.g. the rescuer or compulsive drinker). But the solution [in this same literature] is to offer different and presumably more workable idols, rather than Bible’s Christ…Self-esteem…acceptance and love from new significant others, [better jobs and careers] create successful versions of the idols ‘fear of man’ and ‘trust of man’. Eufunctional idols do ‘work’ and ‘bless’ with temporarily happy lives (Psalm 73)…but the idol system is intact…” – D. Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair”

“The idol begins as a means of power, enabling us to control, but then overpowers, controlling us.” – Richard Keyes, “The Idol Factory” in No God but God.

b. Idols have a “near” and “far” dimension.

“Far idols” such as power, approval, comfort, and control are more subtle and basic. They are at the roots of your life—“farther” from the surface of things. They are motivational drives. They can work through many ‘near idols’. They are dealt with mainly by a process of repenting and rejoicing (See assignment below and next week’s “Dismantling Idols” Project)

“Near idols” are more concrete and specific objects such as your spouse or your carer. Now these things—your business, your ministry, your music—are extremely good things that you need to detach from the far idols, which are using them. That means they often (even ordinarily) may remain in your life, if they are ‘put in their place’. This is what Augustine meant when he spoke of the “right ordering of our loves”.

How do we do this? Basically, you don’t want to love a near idol less, but rather come to love and rejoice in God more than you do in it—so you don’t try to ‘earn your salvation’ through it. It is important, therefore, to work on your far idols the most, or you’ll feel that your near idol is somehow dirty in itself.

Question your motives, especially when your emotions surrounding your ‘near idol’ makes you bitter, scared, or discouraged. Ask “Why am I so upset?” For idols give a franticness to our work with near idols. Often, after we become Christians (or after we get serious about our Christianity) we will have a period of ‘disorientation’, even a lapse in intensity, as we lose our old idolatrous motivations and learn gradually to pursue our ministry, marriage, and work, for Christ’s sake. But that is an extremely important transition. Jonathan Edwards’ insisted that only when we detach our work from far idols do we actually do the work for it’s own sake. “True” virtue, is to love your music for its own sake, or your spouse for his/her own sake. And you are free to do in the gospel because now you love God for his own sake, not just to get heaven and reward from him. This is what the fullness of grace does. Without the gospel, you will do your work “to get a name” or “to prove yourself”—not for the sake of the work itself.

Sum: Sin cannot simply be resisted at the volitional level through mere will power, but on the other hand, we are not helpless victims. Sin must primarily be rooted out at the motivational level through the application of gospel-truth. We must find what we worship as our functional savior through works-righteousness, in rejection of the gospel of free grace and salvation through Christ. Then we must repent and replace the idol with love and joy in Christ at the same time we are trying to change our behavior.

c. Idols create a ‘delusional field’.

As we have seen, idols spin out a whole set of assumptions and false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness and worth and valuelessness.

“Your idols define good and evil ways contrary to God’s definitions. They spin out a whole false belief system. False gods create false laws, false definitions of honor and stigma. Idols promise blessing and warn of curses for those who succeed or fail. ‘If I can ______then my life will be valid.”

This is critical to understand. There is legitimate sorrow, and then there is idolatrous, inconsolable sorrow, that is really the ‘curse’ of the idol. It is saying, “if you don’t have me there IS nothing else that can satisfy you!” There is legitimate guilt, and then there is un-redeemidible guilt. When people say: “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself”—they mean they have failed an idol, whose standards are different than God’s and whose approval is more important to them than God’s.

d. Idols can thrive in a religious environment.

Often it is possible to jettison ‘near idols’ of sex or money and enter the church, but the ‘far idols’ may continue to be served and looked to as our functional righteousness and ‘covering’ rather than Jesus Christ. It is quite possible to serve the idol of approval, power, or control in religious forms. The elder brother in Luke 15 was seeking power and control through obeying the father, while the younger brother was attempting it through disobedience. The lack of a clear ‘near idol’ (like prostitutes) in the elder brother’s life masked what he was really about.

2. THE DE-CONSTRUCTION OF IDOLS

a. The “Moralyzing” Approach.

A very typical approach to personal change among orthodox and conservative Christians can best be called the “moralizing” approach. Basic analysis: Your problem is that you are doing wrong. Repent! This focuses on behavior—but doesn’t go deep enough. We must find out the why of our behavior. Why do I find I want to do the wrong things? What inordinate desires are drawing me to do so? What are the idols and false beliefs behind them? To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself) to ‘repent and change behavior’ is insufficient, because the lack of self-control is coming from a belief that says, ‘even if you live up to moral standards, but you don’t have this, then you are still a failure.’ You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all—your particular idolatry.

b. The “Psychologizing” Approach.

A very typical approach to personal change among more liberal religious groups can best be called the “psychologizing” approach. Basic analysis: Your problem is that you don’t see that God loves you as you are. Rejoice! This focuses on feelings, which seems to be “deeper” than behavior—but it also fails to go deep enough. We must also find out the why of our feelings. Why do I have such strong feelings of despair (or fear, or anger) when this or that happens? What are the inordinate desires that are being frustrated? What are the idols and false beliefs behind them? To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself) ‘God loves you—rejoice!” is insufficient, because the unhappiness is coming from a belief that says, ‘even if God loves you, but you don’t have this, then you are still a failure.’ You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all—your particular idolatry.

c. The “Gospel” Approach.

Basic Analysis: Your problem is that you are looking to something besides Christ for your happiness. Repent and rejoice! This confronts a person with the real sin under the sins behind the bad feelings. Our problem is that we have given ourselves over to idols. Every idol system is a way of our-works-salvation, and this it keeps us “under the law”. Paul tells us that the bondage of sin is broken when we come out from under the law—when we begin to believe the gospel of Christ’s-work-salvation. Only when we realize in a new way that we are righteous in Christ is the idol’s power over us broken. Sin shall not be your master for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). You will only be “under grace” and free from the controlling effects of idols to the degree that you have both: (1) repented for your idols, and (2) rested and rejoiced in the saving work and love of Christ instead.

“If we accurately comprehend the interweaving of…behavior, deceptive inner motives, and powerful external forces, then…what was once ‘dry doctrine’ becomes filled with appeal, hope, delight and life. People see the Gospel is far richer than a ticket to heaven and rote forgiveness for oft-repeated behavioral sins…[1. A Psychologizing approach says] ‘you feel horribly and act badly because your needs aren’t being met—because your family did not meet them’…then it says, God accepts you just as you are’…This is not the biblical gospel, however…This approach just soothes the unhappy soul without getting to the source of the pain]. [2. In a Moralyzing approach] Christ’s forgiveness is applied simply to behavioral sins. The solution is typically…an attempt to deal with the motive problems with a single act of housecleaning. There is little sense of patient process of inner renewal…daily dying to the false gods we fabricate.” – David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair”

“The faith that…is able to warn itself at the fire of God’s love, instead of having to steal love and self-acceptance from other sources, is actually the root of holiness…It is often said today, in circles which blend popular psychology with Christianity, that we must love ourselves before we can be set free to love others…But no realistic human beings find it easy to love or forgive themselves, and hence their self-acceptance must be grounded in their awareness that God accepts them in Christ. There is a sense in which the strongest self-love that we can have…is merely the mirror image of the lively conviction we have that God loves us. Moralism, whether it takes the form of either deunuciation or “pep talks”, can ultimately only create an awareness of sin and guilt or manufactured virtues built on will power…We all automatically gravitate toward the assumption that we are justified by our level of sanctification, and when this posture is adopted, it inevitably focuses our attention not on Christ but on the adequacy of our own obedience. We start each day with our personal security not resting on the accepting love of God and the sacrifice of Christ but on our present feelings or recent achievements in the Christians life. Since these arguments will not quiet the human conscience we, are inevitably moved either to discouragement and apathy or to a self-righteousness [some form of idolatry] which falsifies the record to achieve a sense of peace…” – Richard Lovelace, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life

D. A PASTORAL PROCESS WITH IDOLS

1. IDENTIFYING YOUR IDOLS

a. Using ‘Problem Emotions’ to identify idols.

“1. Every self exists in relation to values perceived as making life worth living. A value is anything good in the created order—any idea, relation, object or person in which one has an interest, form which one derives significance…

2. These values compete…In time, one is prone to choose a center of value by which other values are judged…[which] comes to exercise power or preeminence over other values.

3. When a finite value has been elevated to centrality and imagined as a final source of meaning, then one has chosen…a godOne has a god when a finite value is…viewed as that without which one cannot receive life joyfully. (To be worshipped as a god, something must be sufficiently good…Were my daughter not a source of exceptional affection and delight, she would not be a potential idolatry for me, but I am tempted to adore her in a way…disproportional.)

Anxiety [Idolatry and the future]

[5] Anxiety becomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values…Suppose my god is sex or my physical health or the Democratic Party. If I experience any of these under genuine threat, then I feel myself shaken to the depths.

Guilt/Bitterness [Idolatry and the past]

[6] Guilt bcomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values…Suppose I value my ability to teach and communicate clearly…If clear communication has become an absolute value for me, a center of value that makes all my other values valuable…then if I [fail in teaching well] I am stricken with neurotic guilt.

[7] Bitterness becomes neurotically intensified when someone or something stands between me and something that is my ultimate value]

Boredom/Emptiness [Idolatry and the present]

[8. To be bored is to feel empty, [meaningless] Boredom is an anticipatory form of being dead. To the extent to which limited values are exalted to idolatries…[when any of those values are lost], boredom becomes pathological and compulsive…My subjectively experienced boredom may then become infinitely projected toward the whole cosmos…This picture of the self is called despair [The milder forms are disappointment, disillusionment, cynicism]” – T.C. Oden, Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America and Russia – Chapter 6

TESTING FOR THEM:

If you are angry. Ask, “is there something too important to me? Something I am telling myself I have to have? Is that why I am angry—because I am being blocked from having something I think is a necessity when it is not?” Write down what that might be:

If you are fearful or badly worried. Ask, “is there something too important to me? Something I am telling myself I have to have? Is that why I am so scared—because something is being threatened which I think is a necessity when it is not?” Write down what that might be:

If you are despondent or hating yourself: Ask, “is there something too important to me? Something I am telling myself I have to have? Is that why I am so ‘down’ – because I have lost or failed at something which I think is a necessity when it is not?” Write down what that might be:

b. Using ‘motivational drives’ to identify idols.

“An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God. All sorts of things are potential idols…An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero…If this is so, how do we determine when something is…an idol?

As soon as our loyalty to anything leads us to disobey God, we are in danger of making it an idol…

–Work, a commandment of God can become an idol if it is pursued so exclusively that responsibilities to one’s family are ignored.

–Family, an institution of God himself, can become an idol if one is so preoccupied with the family that no one outside one’s family can be cared for.

–Being well-liked, a perfect legitimate hope, becomes an idol if the attachment to it means one never risks disapproval.

[Idols] are inflated…suggesting that the idol will fulfill the promises for the good life…Idols tend to come in pairs—[for example] a nearby idol may be a rising standard of living, but the faraway idol is a semi-conscious belief that material success will wipe away every tear…” — Richard Keyes, “The Idol Factory” in No God but God.

“…that most basic question which God poses to each human heart: “has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?

Questions…bring some of people’s idol systems to the surface. “To who or what do you look for life-sustaining stability, security and acceptance?…What do you really want and expect [out of life]? What would [really] make you happy? What would make you an acceptable person? Where do you look for power and success?’ These questions or similar ones tease out whether we serve God or idols, whether we look for salvation from Christ or from false saviors.

[This bears] on the immediate motivation of my behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question: who or what “rules my behavior, the Lord or an idol?” – David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair”

We often don’t go deep enough to analyze our idol-structures. For example, “money” is of course an idol, yet in another sense, money can be sought in order to satisfy very different, more foundational or “far” idols. For example, some people want lots of money, but save it) while others want lots of money for access to social circles and for making themselves beautiful and attractive (such people do spend their money on themselves!) The same goes for sex. Some people use sex in order to get power over others, others in order to feel approved and loved, and others just for pleasure/comfort. The following outline can be helpful in letting people consider different foundational “idol-structures”. Dick Keyes calls them “far-idols” as opposed to “near idols”. Remember, these are all alternative ways to make ourselves “righteous/worthy”:

What We Seek         Price Willing to Pay         Greatest Nightmare      Others Feel     Prob/Emotion

COMFORT                       Reduced                      Stress, demands               Hurt           Boredom

(Privacy, lack of stress, freedom)

APPROVAL            Less independence                   Rejection                Smothered     Cowardice

(Affirmation, love, relationship)

CONTROL               Loneliness, spontaneity         Uncertainty            Condemned       Worry

(Self-discipline, certainity, standards)

POWER                  Burdened; responsibility        Humiliation                  Used             Anger

(Success, winning, influence)

TESTING FOR THEM:

Circle the thoughts that are lodged in your heart:

Power idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I have power and influence over others.

Approval Idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I am loved and respected by ___________________.

Comfort idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.”

Control idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____________________.”

Other related idols:

Helping idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—people are dependent on me and need me.”

Dependence idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.”

Independence idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.”

Work idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I am highly productive getting a lot done.”

Achievement idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I am being recognized for my accomplishments, if I am excelling in my career.”

Religion idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.”

Individual person idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—this one person is in my life and happy there and/or happy with me.”

Materialism idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.”

Irreligion idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and with a self-made morality.”

Racial/cultural idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.”

Inner ring idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.”

Family idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—my children and/OR my parents are happy and happy with me.”

Family idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—Mr. or Ms. ‘Right’ is in love with me.”

Suffering idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I am hurting, in a problem—only then do I feel noble or worthy of love or am able to deal with guilt.”

Ideology idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—my political or social cause or party is making progress and ascending in influence or power.”

Image idolatry: “Life only has meaning / I only have worth if—I have a particular kind of look or body image.”

Answer these diagnostic questions:

a. What is my greatest nightmare? What do I worry about most?

b. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live? What keeps me going?

c. What do I rely on or comfort self with when things go bad or get difficult?

d. What do I think most easily about? What does my mind go to when I am free? What preoccupies me?

e. What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?

f. What makes me feel the most self-worth? What am I the proudest of?

g. What do I really want and expect out of life? What really makes me happy?

Summarize: Now that you’ve answered the questions above, look for common themes. Write below what you think are the “functional” masters? What things tend to be too important to you?

2. DISMANTLING YOUR IDOLS

a. First Step – Repent: Taking Down The Idols (Judges 10:10-16; Romans 8:13)

On the one hand, (contra the Psychologizing Approach) you are called to repent. You have been worshipping an idol and rejected the true God. Every idol is the center of some system of works-righteousness by which we are seeking to “earn” our salvation, so you are also trying to be your own Savior. So you must repent. But this actually gives much hope—it means there is something you can do. The Psychologizing Approach, though sympathetic, is not truly empowering, because it leaves us feeling like helpless victims. How do we repent?

(1) NAME THE IDOLS (getting specific)

In prayer, name these things to God. Sample prayer language: “Lord, these are the things I have built my life and heart around…”

  • Name some “Near” idol or idols:

  • Name some “Far” idol or idols:

(2) UNMASK THE IDOLS

Idols create “delusions”. They appear more wonderful or all powerful than they really are. They lead us to deny their hold on us. Stand back and get them into perspective. In what ways are your idols distorting your thinking or hiding themselves from you? (For example: “My idol of status and money has made me deny how much I hate my job and how much happier I would be in another (but lower-paying) career.”)

Recognize how weak and poor they are (in themselves). In prayer, confess that these things are good, but finite and weak, and praise God for being the only source of what you need. Sample prayer language, “Lord, this is a good thing, why have I made it to be so absolute? Why do I feel so pointless with out it? What is this compared to you? If I have you, I don’t have to have this! This cannot bless me and love me and help me like you! This is not my life—Jesus is my life! This is not my righteousness and worthiness. It cannot give me that. But you can and have!” Write out such a prayer in your own words.

Recognize how dangerous they are (to you). Idols enslave, and they will never be satisfied. Realize how they increasingly destroy you. Look and now, in prayer, confess that these things are absolutely lethal, and ask a strong God for his help. Sample prayer language: “Lord, why am I giving this so much power over me? If I keep doing it, it will strangle me. I don’t have to do so—I will not do so any longer. I will not let this jerk me around on a leash any longer. This will not be my Master—you are my only King.” Write out such a prayer in your own words.

Recognize how grievous they are (to Christ). Idols ultimately are cruel to the heart of the one who offers us so much, and at such infinite cost. Realize that when you pine after idols (in your anger, fear, despondency) that you are saying: “Lord, you are enough. This is more beautiful, fulfilling, and sweet to my taste than you. You are negotiable, but this is not. Despite all you’ve done for me, I will only use you as long as you help me get this. You are negotiable, but this is not. You haven’t done enough for me—if you don’t help me have this, I will discard you.” In prayer, admit, how deeply you have grieved and de-valued Jesus, and ask forgiveness. Sample prayer language: “Lord I see how repulsive this idol for what it is—an idol. In yearning after this, I have trampled on your love for me. I realize now that the greatest sin in my life is a lack of thankfulness, a lack of grateful joy for what you have done for me.” Write such a prayer in your own words.

b. Second Step – Rejoice: Replacing The Idols (Luke 10:20; Colossians 3:1-4).

On the other hand (contra the Moralyzing Approach) you are called to tremendous joy and encouragement. What you have turned from is the beauty, love, and joy of Christ. He offers what you have been seeking elsewhere. He awaits you, he “stands at the door” knocking (Rev. 3:20), seeking a far deeper connection of intimacy with you than he has previously. It is an appreciation, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done and offers you that will “replace” the idol. Notice how often (Col. 3:1-9; Rom. 8:6-13; Heb. 12:1-3) growth and change is a dynamic of two interactive processes—“put to death” (repentance) and “set your mind above” (rejoicing in what you have and are in Christ). These are not really two separable things. Only rejoicing in Christ strengthens us to admit the worst about ourselves in repentance. On the other hand, only the sight of our sin reveals to us how free and unmerited his grace is. Rejoicing and repentance must go together. Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of deep change.

What does it mean to “rejoice” or “set your mind” on Christ? “Rejoicing” in the Bible is much deeper than simply being happy about something. Paul directed that we “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), but this cannot mean “always feel happy”, since he also said that every day he was weighted with concern and anxiety over his flock (2 Cor. 11:28-29). Jesus forbid his disciples to rejoice in their power over demons, and insisted that they rejoice over their salvation (Luke 10:20). What you rejoice in is the thing that is your central sweetness and consolation in life. To rejoice is to treasure a thing, to assess its value to you, to reflect on its beauty and importance until your heart rests in it and tastes the sweetness of it.

So “rejoicing” is a way of praising God until the heart is sweetned and rested, and until it relaxes its grip on anything else it thinks that it needs. The rejoicing is this not strictly a second distinct step after repentance, but rather it completes the repentance. (In the same way, the Christian repentance is not distinct, but rather it begins the rejoicing!) Why? In Christian repentance—we do not “take our sins” to Mt. Sinai, but to Mt. Calvary. Sinai represents only the law of God, and makes us fear God will reject us. But Calvary represents both the law of God and his commitment to save us no matter what—even if his Son has to fulfill and pay our debt to the law. “Going to Sinai” with our sins means we use the painful fear of rejection to motivate us to change. “Going to Calvary” with our sins means we use gratitude for his love to motivate us to change. The free love of Christ means that in disobedience, you have not just broken the rules, but spurned the One who lost his Father rather than lose you.

The Moralyzing Approach, then, though challenging, is not in the end truly cleansing, because it only makes us afraid of the consequences of our sin, rather than disgusted with the sin itself as grieving and dishonoring to our Savior. Thus it is only as we rejoice in the absolute certainty of his love for us that we can truly repent. In the gospel, it is the thing that most assures us (free grace) that most deeply convicts us of sin. How do we rejoice? 3 ways:

(1) REJOICE IN PARTICULAR.

To replace idols so they cannot grow (back), you must learn to rejoice in the particular thing that Jesus brings that replaces the particular idol of your heart. Whenever you see your heart in the grip of some kind of disobedience or misery, some temptation, anxiety, anger, etc., always ask: (1) How are these effects being caused by an inordinate hope for some-one or some-thing to give me what only Jesus can really give me? And (2) How does Christ give me so much more fully and graciously and suitably the very things I am looking for elsewhere? Then Rejoice and think of what he has done and what he has given you. Here are some examples:

(a) If you struggle with temptation, (often it is a near idol linked to a far idol of comfort)—let Jesus entice you with his life. Rejoice in the gospel until you see his beauty. (1) How are these temptations being caused by an inordinate hope for some-one or some-thing to give me the comfort and consolation that only Jesus can really give me? (2) How does Christ give me so much more fully and graciously and suitably the very things I am looking for elsewhere? Rejoice and think of what he has done and what he has given you. Let him entice you with his beauty. Sample rejoicing prayer for times of temptation: “Lord, only in your presence is fullness of joy and pleasures forever more (Psalm 16:11) yet here I am trying to find comfort in something else. Why rake in a mud puddle when you have set a table for me (Psalm 23:5) filled with your love, peace, joy? This thing I am tempted by is just a pleasure that will wear off so soon—it is a sham and cheat, while your pleasure, though it may start small will grow on and forever (Prov. 4:18). And remove my idols of pleasure, which never can give me the pleasure I need.”

A meditation for rejoicing in Jesus (and the gospel) when tempted—read John 6:5-13:32-40. See Jesus feeding people with his bread, the only bread that will not leave you hungry (John 6:35). Meditate on John 6 and write out a rejoicing prayer that replaces temptation thoughts.

(b) If you struggle with anxiety, (often out of a far idol of control) let Jesus comfort you with his care. Rejoice in the gospel until you are humbled enough (to see you don’t know best) or valued enough (to see that he could not forget you). (1) How are these anxieties being caused by an inordinate hope for some-one or some-thing to give me the control over my life and environment only Jesus can really give me? (2) How does Christ give me so much more fully and graciously and suitably the very things I am looking for elsewhere? Rejoice and think of what he has done and what he has given you. Let him quiet you with his loving power. Sample rejoicing prayer for times of anxiety: “Lord, I live by your sheer grace. That means though I don’t deserve to have things go right, yet I know you are working them all out for good (Rom. 8:28) because you love me in Christ. All my punishment fell into Jesus’ heart—so you only allow bad things for my growth, and for loving wise purposes. I can relax, because my security in life is based neither on luck nor hard work, but on your gracious love for me. You have counted every hair on my head (Matt. 10:30-31) and every tear down my cheeks (Ps. 56:8) – you love me far more and better than anyone else loves me or than I love myself. And remove my idols of security—which never can give me the security I need.” Pray this prayer when anxious or write one out yourself.

A meditation for rejoicing in Jesus (and the gospel) when anxious—read Luke 8:22-25; Mark 4:35-41. See Jesus assuring them of his care. Meditate on this and write out a prayer that replaces anxious thoughts.

(c) If you struggle with anger and pride, (often out of a desire for power), let Jesus humble and soften you with his mercy. Rejoice in the gospel until you are so. (1) How are this anger and hardness being caused by an inordinate hope for some-one or something to give me the power and significance that only Jesus can really give me? (2) How does Christ give me so much more fully and graciously and suitably the very things I am looking for elsewhere? Rejoice and think of what he has done and what he has given you. Let him humble and soften you with his grace and mercy. Sample rejoicing prayer for times of anger: “Lord, when I forget the gospel I become impatient and judgmental of others. I forget that you have been infinitely patient with me over the years. You are slow to anger and rich in love (Psalm 145:8). When I am anything other than tender-hearted and compassionate to people around me, I am like the unmerciful servant, who, having been forgiven an infinite debt, is hard toward his fellow debtor (Matt. 18:21-35). I live completely and solely by your grace and long-suffering, and I praise you for it. Tenderize my heart toward others as I do so. And remove the idol of power—the need to get my own way—which is making me so hard toward these people.” Pray this prayer when irritable and angry or one you write out yourself.

A meditation for rejoicing in Jesus (and the gospel) when cold or angry—read Matthew 26:36-46. See Jesus being let down by his disciples, but still giving them credit for their willing spirits (Matt. 26:41). Remember that you have fallen asleep on him so often. Meditate on this and write out a prayer that replaces hard-hearted thoughts:

(d) If you struggle with rejection and a sense of worthlessness (often out of a desire for approval), let Jesus assure you of his love. Rejoice in the gospel till you are affirmed. (1) How is this despondency being caused by an inordinate hope for some-one or some-thing to give me the sense of approval that only Jesus can really give me? (2) How does Christ give me so much more fully and graciously and suitably the very things I am looking for elsewhere? Rejoice and think of what he has done and what he has given you. Let him assure you with his fatherly love. Sample rejoicing prayer: “Lord, when I forget the gospel I become dependent on the smiles and evaluation of others. I let them sit in judgment on me and then I hear all their criticism as a condemnation of my very being. But you have said, “Now there is no condemnation’ for me (Rom 8:1). You delight and sing over me (Zeph. 3:14-17), you see me as a beauty (Col. 1:22). Why do I pant after the approval of the serfs when I have the love of the King? Ironically, I am being a lousy friend—because I am too hurt by criticism to either learn from it of give it to others (for fear of getting it back). Oh, let me be so satisfied with your love, committed to what is best for them. Remove my idols of approval—which can never give me the approval I need” Pray this prayer when feeling hurt and rejected or write on out yourself.

A meditation for rejoicing in Jesus (and the gospel) when hurt or rejected—read John 15:9-17; 17:13-26. Listen to how Jesus talks about you to his Father. Think of what you mean to him, what he is willing to do for you. Meditate of this and write out a prayer that replaces despondent thoughts.

It should be clear how to reflect on your heart in such a way that you can deal with its idolatrous ‘motions’ and effects. You may have other problems besides the four mentioned above. For example, you may have a particular problem with guilt over the past, or with boredom in general, and so on. Follow the same pattern you see above: (a) What is the ‘far’ idol motivation (e.g. power, approval)? What is the ‘near’ idol it is attached to (e.g. success at work, dating a particular person, ministry)? (b) How does Jesus particularly provide what the idols cannot? (1) Pray to him, thanking him for it, and (2) find some passage of Scripture in which he very visibly and concretely demonstrates this gift or quality. Meditate on it.

(2) REJOICING IN PROCESS.

Meditation. Essentially, rejoicing in Christ is worship. You can get no relief simply by “figuring out” your idols and simply saying, “but Jesus gives me peace that this idol cannot.” You have to actually get the peace that Jesus gives, and that only comes as you worship. The “Rejoicing in Particular” exercises are just abstractions that will not effect you unless as you pray and praise and meditate the Spirit inscribes these truths on the heart (Eph. 1:18ff.; 3:15ff). These worksheets can give you the truths you need, but through the Spirit you have to “pray them in”. That takes time. It is a process.

So it is not only important to spend time repenting and rejoicing in fixed times of solitude and prayer. You must also “catch” your heart falling into idolatry during the day, and you must draw on your hard work of reflection by learning to quickly repent/rejoice your heart into shape on the spot. This means that everyone should have a series of “Quick Strike” prayers that go against your main idols and the delusional fields/negative patterns that may happen during the day. (You may wish to write these prayers out on a card.) Often the prayers might be accompanied by a Bible passage or verse.

When filled with anxiety, thinking: “If I slip up, if I make a wrong move here, I could lose everything.” But think or pray instead, “All the things I have are really gifts of grace. They aren’t here because of my performance, but by God’s generosity. He loves me enough to lose his only Son for me, surely he will continue to give me what I need. Console yourself.”

When filled with pride and anger, thinking: “I am not getting what I deserve! People are not treating me right! Who do they think they are?” But think and pray instead, “All the things I have are really gifts of grace. I have never gotten what I deserve—and I never will! If God gave me what I deserved, I’d be dead. Humble yourself.”

When filled with guilt, thinking: “I have blown it! My problems mean he’s abandoned me.” But think or pray instead, “All the things I have are the results of God’s grace. I never earned them to begin with—so I couldn’t have un-earned them. He accepted me long ago even though he knew I would do this. This was in my heart all along—I just didn’t see it, but he did. He’s with me now. Be confident, Self.”

When filled with boredom and lethargy, thinking: “Sure, I’m a Christian. Sure I have good things. So what?” But think or pray instead, “All the things I have—every one—is a gift of grace. The very fact I am a Christian is a miracle. Be amazed. Be in wonder, Self.”

Conclusion: All we have been trying to say in this last section is well summarized by a few famous lines in a poem by John Donne. Meditate on it and make it a prayer—

Take me to you, imprison me.

For I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except YOU ravish me.

SOURCE: Personal notes from Dr. Tim Keller’s lecture at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fl. in the early 2000’s – lecture from I-tunes.

 

 

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Tim Keller: Preaching The Gospel in a Postmodern Culture – Session 5 Notes

GETTING DOWN TO EARTH – STRATEGIES FOR CHRIST CENTERED APPLICATION

Tim Keller preaching image

BY  TIMOTHY KELLER

INTRODUCTION

How do we ‘get down to earth’—bringing a text into direct contact with the hearts and lives practices of the listeners? And how do we do this in such a way that really changes the heart through the gospel rather through general moral exhortation? I will lay down three broad strategies for application that flow out of a redemptive-Historical approach.

Indeed, the second strategy (Aiming at Heart-Motives) flows directly out of the “Law Completion” way of Redemptive-Historical exposition.

A. CRITIQUE RELIGION AS WELL AS IRRELIGION

One of the most important ways to get a hearing from post-modern people and to wake up nominal or sleepy Christians is to preach the gospel as a “third” distinct way from both irreligion and religion.

Religion is ‘outside in’: “if I work hard according to biblical principles, then God will accept/bless me”. The gospel is ‘inside out’: “because God has accepted/blessed me, I work hard to live according to biblical principles”. Religion (explicitly in other faiths and implicitly in legalistic Christianity) makes moral/religious observance a means of salvation. Even people who believe in the Christian God can functionally ‘base their sanctification. Even people who believe in the Christian God can functionally ‘base their sanctification on their justification’ (Lovelace). Thus a prime need is to distinguish between general ‘religion’ and gospel Christianity as well overt irreligion. Why? (1) Many professed Christians aren’t believers—they are pure ‘elder brothers’ (Luke 15:11ff.) and only making this distinction can convert them. (2) Many, many real Christians are elder-brotherish—angry, mechanical, superior, insecure—and only making this distinction can renew them. (3) Modern and post-modern people have rejected religion for good reasons and will only listen to Christianity if they see it is different.

1. The two “thieves” of the gospel

Tertullian said, “Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.” Tertullian meant that there were two basic false ways of thinking, each of which “steals” the power and the distinctiveness of the gospel from us by pulling us “off the gospel line” to one side or the other. These two errors are very powerful, because they represent the natural tendency of the human heart and mind. These “thieves” can be called moralism on the one hand, and relativism on the other hand. (Note: Thinking in terms of the RHM, we can say that ‘legalism’ is an under-realized’ eschatology in which the presence of God’s future acceptance and vindication is not grasped, and anti-nomianism is an ‘over-realized’ eschatology in which the law and striving is not necessary).

Another way to put it is: the gospel opposes both religion and irreligion. On the one hand, “moralism/religion” stresses truth over grace, for it says that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, “relativists/irreligion” stresses grace over the truth, for they say that we are all accepted by God (if there is a God) and we have to decide what is true for us. But “truth” without grace is not really truth, and “grace” without truth is not really grace. Jesus was “full of grace and truth”. Any religion or philosophy of life that de-emphasizes or loses one or the other of these truths, falls into legalism or into license and either way, the joy and power and “release” of the gospel is stolen by one thief or the other. The real gospel gives us a God far more holy than a moralist can bear (since your morality is only a filthy rag before him) and far more loving than a relativist can imagine (since his love cost him dearly).

Since Paul uses a metaphor for being “in line” with the gospel, we can picture gospel renewal failing when we keep from walking “off-line” either to the right or to the left. However, before we start we must realize that gospel is not a half-way compromise between the two poles—it does not produce “something in the middle”, but something different from both. The gospel critiques both religion and irreligion (Matt. 21:31; 22:10).

In Galatians 2:14, Paul lays down a powerful principle. He deals with Peter’s racial pride and cowardice by declaring that he was not living “not in line with the truth of the gospel”. From this we see that the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life—spiritual, psychological, corporate, social—by thinking, hoping, and living out the “lines” or ramifications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving. Notice, Paul did not say, “you are breaking the no-racism law!” though that is perfectly true. However, it is not the best way to think. Paul asks neither “what is the moral way to act?” nor does he say “we don’t need to order our steps at all!” but rather asks: “what is the way to live that is in-line with the gospel?” The gospel must continually be “thought out” to keep us from moving into our habitual moralistic or individualistic directions. We must bring everything into line with the gospel.

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel—a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine…Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.” (on Galatians 2:14f).

2. ‘Two Thieves’ application.

So we see that we must move away from the typical ‘conservative evangelical’ preaching which basically says: “irreligion and immorality is bad; moral living is very good; Christianity is best.” Of course it is better to not rob and kill, whether you are a Christian or not! But gospel preaching is careful to show the ‘dark side’ of morality, so that non-Christians (who see the dangers of religiosity and self-righteousness) will realize the gospel is something else, and so that Christians will not be trapped in the lifelessness of moral self-effort. The following are some examples of how to treat subjects contrasted with both irreligion and religion.

a. Approach to discouragement. When a person is depressed, the moralist says, “you are breaking the rules—repent.” On the other hand, the relativist says, “you just need to love and accept yourself”. But (assuming there is no physiological base of the depression!) the gospel leads us to examine ourselves and say: “something in my life has become more important than Christ, a pseudo-savior, a form of works-righteousness”. The gospel leads us to repentance, but not to merely setting our will against superficialities. It is without the gospel that superficialities will be addressed instead of the heart. The moralist will work on behavior and the relativist will work on the emotions themselves.

b. Approach to love and relationships. Moralism often uses the procuring of love as the way to “earn our salvation” and convince ourselves we are worthy persons. That often creates what is called ‘co-dependency’—a form of self-salvation through needing people or needing people to save you (i.e. saving yourself by saving others). On the other hand, much relativism/liberalism reduces love to a negotiated partnership for mutual benefit. You only relate as long as it is not costing you anything. So the choice (without the gospel) is to selfishly use others or to selfishly let yourself be used by others. But in Christ we see a man who unconditionally sacrificed for us out of love for us (not need for us). When we get both the emotional-humility (who do I think I am?) and the emotional-wealth (he loves me like that!) we are moved to also humbly serve others, but not out of inappropriate need. We do sacrifice and commit, but not out of a need to convince ourselves or others we are acceptable. So we can love the person enough to confront, yet stay with the person when it does not benefit us.

c. Approach to suffering. Moralists believe that God owes them. The whole point of moralism is to put God in one’s debt. So when a moralist suffers, he must either fell mad at God (because I have been performing well) or mad at self (because I have not been performing well) on both. On the other hand, relativism/pragmatism feels always angry, claiming that God must be either unjust or impotent. But the cross shows us that we had a suffering God. But the gospel on the one hand takes away our surprise and pique over suffering. On the one hand, we see him suffering—without complaint—for us. So we know that we deserve to be eternally lost but by mercy we will never get what we deserve. This eliminates self-pity. On the other hand, we know God could not be punishing us for our sin—since Jesus paid for our sins, and God cannot receive two payments. That means whatever suffering we are receiving is not retribution, but instruction. If you face suffering with a clear grasp of justification by grace alone, your joy in that grace will deepen, but if you face suffering with a mindset of justification by works, the suffering will break you, not make you. “He suffered not that we might not suffer, but that in our suffering we could become like him.” Since both the moralist and the pragmatist ignore the cross in different ways, they will both be confused and devastated by suffering.

d. Approach to sexuality. The secularist/pragmatist sees sex an merely biological and physical appetite. The moralist tends to see sex as dirty or at least a dangerous impulse that leads constantly to sin. But the gospel shows us that sexuality is to reflect the self-giving of Christ. He gave himself completely without conditions. So we are not to seek intimacy but hold back control of our lives. If we give ourselves sexually we are to give ourselves legally, socially, personally—utterly. Sex only is to happen in a totally committed, permanent relationship of marriage.

e. Approach to one’s family. Moralism can make you a slave to parental expectations, while pragmatism sees no need for family loyalty or the keeping of promises and covenants if they do not “meet my needs”. The gospel frees you from making parental approval an absolute or psychological salvation, pointing how God becomes the ultimate father. Then you will neither be too dependent or too hostile to your parents.

f. Approach to other races and cultures. The liberal approach is to relativize all cultures. (“We can all get along because there is no truth”). The conservatives believe there is truth for evaluation of cultures, and so they choose some culture as superior and then they idolize it, feeling superior to others in the impulse of slef-justifying pride. The gospel leads us to be: a) on the one hand, somewhat critical of all cultures, including our own (since there is truth), but b) on the other hand, we are morally superior to no one. After all, we are saved by grace alone. Christians will exhibit both moral conviction yet compassion and flexibility. For example, gays are used to being “bashed” and hated or completely accepted.

g. Approach to witness to non-Christians. The liberal/pragmatic approach is to deny the legitimacy of evangelism altogether. The conservative/moralist person does believe in proselytizing, because “we are right and they are wrong”. Such proselytizing is almost always offensive. But the gospel produces a constellation of traits is us.

(1) First, we are compelled to share the gospel out of generosity and love, not guilt.

(2) Second, we are freed from fear of being ridiculed or hurt by others, since we already have the favor of God by grace.

(3) Third, there is a humility in our dealings with others, because we know we are saved only by grace alone, not because of our superior insight or character.

(4) Fourth, we are hopeful about anyone, even the “hard cases”, because we were saved only because of grace, not because we were likely people to be Christians.

(5) Fifth, we are courteous and careful with people. We don’t have to push or coerce them, for it is only God’s grace that opens hearts, not our eloquence or persistence or even their openness. All these traits not only create a winsome evangelist but an excellent neighbor in a multi-cultural society.

h. Approach to human authority. Moralists will tend to obey human authorities (family, tribe, government, cultural customs) too much, since they rely so heavily on their self-image of being moral and decent. Pragmatists will either obey human authority too much (since they have no higher authority by which they can judge their culture) or else too little (since they may only obey when they know they won’t get caught). That means either authoritarianism or anarchy. But the gospel gives you both a standard by which to oppose human authority (if it contradicts the gospel), but on the other hand, gives you incentive to obey the civil authorities from the heart, even when you could get away with disobedience.

i. Approach to guilt. When someone says, “I can’t forgive myself”, it means there is some standard or condition or person that is more central to your identity than the grace of God. God is the only God who forgives—no other “god” will. If you cannot forgive yourself, it is because you have failed your real God, your real righteousness, and it is holding you captive. The moralist’s false god is usually a God of their imagination which is holy and demanding but not gracious. The pragmatist’s false god is usually some achievement or relationship.

j. Approach to self-image. Without the gospel, your self-image is based upon living up to some standards—whether yours or someone’s imposed on you. If you live up to those standards, you will be confident but not humble. If you don’t live up to them, you will be humble but not confident. Only in the gospel can you be both enormously bold and utterly sensitive and humble. For you are both perfect and a sinner!

k. Approach to “right living.” Jonathan Edwards points out that “true virtue” is only possible for those who have experienced the grace of the gospel. Any person who is trying to earn their salvation does “the right thing” in order to get into heaven, or in order to better their self-esteem. In other words, the ultimate motive is self-interest. But persons who know they are totally accepted already do “the right thing” out of sheer delight in righteousness for its own sake. Only in the gospel do you obey God for God’s sake, and not for what God will give you. Only in the gospel do you love people for their sake (not yours), do good for its own sake (not yours), and obey God for his sake (not yours). Only the gospel makes “doing the right thing” a joy and delight, not a burden or a means to an end.

l. Approach to the poor. The liberal/pragmatist tend to scorn the religion of the poor and see them as helpless victims needing expertise. This is born out of disbelief in God’s common grace or special grace to all. Ironically, the secular mindset also disbelieves in sin, and thus anyone who is poor must be oppressed, a helpless victim. The conservative/moralists on the other hand tend to scorn the poor as failures and weaklings. They see them as somehow to blame for the situation. But the gospel leads us to be: a) humble, without moral superiority knowing you were “spiritually bankrupt” but saved by Christ’s free generosity, and b) gracious, not worried too much about “deservingness”, since you didn’t deserve Christ’s grace, c) respectful of believing poor Christians as brothers and sisters from whom to learn. Jesus himself came as a poor man. The gospel alone can bring “knowledge workers” into a sense of humble respect for and solidarity with the poor.

B. AIM AT HEART-MOTIVES UNDER (AS WELL AS) BEHAVIOR

We saw Martin Luther believed that self-justification (rather than Lord-justification) is the root of all sin. This means that there is a particular heart-motive ‘barrier’ under every sin, which is some form of unbelief in the gospel of Lord-justification. This means that we must ‘use the gospel’ each time we do application. We must show that some form of gospel-unbelief is at the root of why we do not live as we ought. We must renew the heart-motives with the gospel, not just with exhortation that focuses directly on the will.

1. Principles for Renewing the Heart with the Gospel.

a. The gospel offers not just forgiveness for our bad record, but also complete acceptance through Christ’s perfect record. Christ did not only die in our place but lived a perfect life in our place. Therefore we do not simply get forgiveness for sins from Christ, but also complete acceptance. His perfect past record now (in God’s sight) becomes ours.

b. There is no alternative to the gospel but works-righteousness. Both religion and irreligion are forms of it. Un-religious persons are struggling to achieve a “righteousness” through their own efforts, and religious persons are struggling to achieve a “righteousness” through their own efforts. So fundamentally, they are no different.

c. All sin is therefore ultimately rooted in ‘idolatry”, pseudo-salvation, false trusts or ‘lords’ caused by works-righteousness. The ultimate reason for any sin is that something besides Christ is functioning as an alternative “righteousness” or source of confidence—and is thus an “idol”, a pseudo-savior, which creates inordinate desires.

d. All of life is repentance—not just for sins, but also for our false “righteousness(es)”. Any failure of actual righteousness is always a failure to live in accordance with our imputed righteousness. We make something besides Jesus our real hope and life. So believing the gospel means to repent, not just for our sins, but the particular (self) righteousness(es) underlying our behavior. That is the secret of change.

e. Gospel repentance creates a whole new motivation in our relationship to God, to others, to ourselves, and to our life in the world. Only through the gospel is there a new sense of delight in and service to God for the beauty of who he is in himself, not for what he gives you. That frees us to love others and do good deeds for their own sake, and not for how they profit us.

f. Therefore, the gospel is not only the way to enter the kingdom, but also the way to advance (in) the kingdom.

2. A Basic Outline for Aiming at the Heart as well as Behavior.

The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.

a. The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO.

“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative/story tells us that we must do or what we must be.”

b. The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.

“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.”

c. The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT.

“But there’s one who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the–. He has done this for us, in our place.”

d. The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.

“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”

Discussion:

a) In every text of the Scripture there is somehow a moral principle. It may grow out of because of what it shows us about the character of God or Christ, or out of either the good or bad examples of characters in the text, or because of explicit commands, promises, and warnings. This moral principle must be distilled clearly.

b) But then a crisis is created in the hearers as the preacher shows that his moral principle creates insurmountable problems. The sermon shows how this practical and moral obligation is impossible to meet. The hearers are led to a seemingly dead end.

c) Then a hidden door opens and light comes in. The sermon moves both into worship and into Christ-application when it shows how only Jesus Christ has fulfilled this. If the text is narrative, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of a particular character. If the text is didactic, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of the principle.

d) finally, we show how our inability to live as we ought stems from our rejection of Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life (or whatever the theme is). The sermon points out how to repent and rejoice in Christ in such a way that we can live as we ought.

CASE STUDY #1

If I preached a sermon on “honesty”, I could show the forms of dishonesty and how harmful it is, and how we need to ask God to help us be honest. But it I stopped there (and merely called people to ask forgiveness for lying and try harder to be honest), I would only be playing to the heart’s natural self-righteousness. I would be essentially supporting the growth of ‘common morality’ in the people. Those who would be convicted by the sermon would feel guilty and burdened. Those who had not lied lately would be smug. I should admit that nearly every sermon I ever preached on honesty/lying up to my first 15 years in the ministry was like this! Even though I knew (via Ed Clowney) that I had to preach Christ and not moralism from every text, I really just made Jesus an “add-on”. I didn’t apply him as Savior to the actual sin of lying, but to the aftermath only. My sermon would go like this:

I. Here are all the ways we lie, and why they are forbidden.

II. We should not lie, because Jesus told the truth and kept his promises (Jesus as Example).

III. If we do lie, Jesus will forgive us and help us do better (Jesus as God-of-gaps).

In other words, I used Jesus as an example, and then as someone who forgives us when, though we try very hard, we sometimes fail. This essentially tells people to sanctify themselves. It implicitly appeals to fear and/or pride as motives for honesty.

But in gospel analysis we ask the question: “why do you lie in a particular situation?” The usual reason we lie is because there is something we feel that we simply must have (besides Jesus) to survive and be truly happy, and so we lie. It is usually a good reputation, or saving face, or approval, or some other thing. I first came to understand this when I realized that my wife and I tend to ‘fudge’ the truth in very different circumstances. I realized that the underlying reason that I lied/deceived was a fear of people’s disapproval.

Using “Luther-ist” analysis, I was trusting in the approval of people rather than in Christ as my functional trust, as my main hope. But anything you add to Jesus Christ as a requirement for a happy life is a functional salvation, a pseudo-lord, and it is controlling you, whether it be power, approval, comfort or control. So the only way to change your habit of lying is to (not just try harder) but to apply the gospel—to repent of your failure to believe the gospel, and see that you are not saved by pursuing this thing (which you are lying to get), but through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Alternatives – What are the alternatives? Type #1 – On the one hand, there is a “Christ as Example” or ‘moralistic’ sermon that says—“please try harder or God will be very unhappy!” Type #2 – On the other hand, there is a “Christ as God-of-Gaps” or ‘relativistic’ sermon that says—“we all fall down but God loves us anyway!” (Many people today in the Reformed camp smell that ‘church growth’ theory has led us to more ‘relativistic’ sermons in the evangelical world. But are we just to go back to the moralistic ones?).

Instead we must do “Christ-as-Savior” or “gospel” sermons. Unlike “Type #2” sermons, they begin with deep, below the surface repentance, not a superficial application of “Jesus loves you anyway”. Unlike “Type #1” sermons, they end with rejoicing, since the thing we must repent of is always a failure to enjoy, delight in, and relish the grace and provision of Christ’s work. So this is how I learned to preach sermons on lying—or anything else. No matter what the issue, if we call people to “try harder”, we actually push them deeper into slavery, but when we always solve the problem by applying the gospel, then both a) non-Christians get to hear it every week in multiple perspectives, and b) Christians get to see how it really works in every aspect of life.

Sum: Only “Christo-centric” preaching can really lead the hearers to true virtue, gospel holiness. Typical preaching only distills “biblical principles” which do not see the text in its redemptive-historical context. Thus it is only natural that the application part of such a sermon will tend to merely exhort people to conform to the principles. Only Christo-centric preaching can produce gospel holiness.

Case Study #2

A Sermon on the power of sexual/beauty’s attraction in our culture.

I. What you must do: The power of physical beauty over us must be broken. Look at the devastation in our society and in our lives. 1) It distorts women’s view of themselves (add eating disorders); 2) It demoralizes aging people; 3) It distorts men’s lives, by making them reject great spouse-prospects for superficial reasons (add pornography). What must we do? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Be deep. Don’t be controlled.

II. But you can’t: You know quite well we won’t be able to. Why? 1) First, we desire physical beauty to cover our own sense of shame and inadequacy. Genesis 3. “When you look good you feel good about yourself” really = …”you feel yourself to be good.” 2) Second, we are afraid of our mortality and death. Evolutionary biologists and Christians together agree that the drive to have physical beauty is a desire for youth. We’ll never overcome our problem by just “trying”.

III. But there was one who did. There was one who was beautiful beyond bearing yet willingly gave it up (Philippians 2). He became ugly that we might become beautiful (Isaiah 53).

IV. Only now we can change. Only as we see what Jesus did for us will our hearts be melted and freed from the belief that we can judge a book by its cover. Only when we can be in Him will be freed from our sense of shame and fear of mortality (You want the non-Christians to wish it were true even if they don’t believe it yet).

LOOK AT THE TEXT THROUGH THREE APPLICATION PERSPECTIVES

What the “Three Perspectives” are.

Vern Poythress in God-centered Interpretation takes John Frame’s 3 perspectives of normative (prophetic), existential (priestly), and situational (kingly) and works this out for hermeneutics. He says that when interpreting the text, you do not know the meaning of a text unless you understand its author’s original historic sense (normative), its application to the hearers (existential), and its place in the history of redemption (situational). If you use one of these three aspects, you make it an idol and it leads to distortions.

However, once you ‘go into’ the application to the hearers, you again have the three perspectives. Again, if you only use one the aspects, you make it an idol and it leads to distortions. He calls these distortions—the “Doctrinalist’ (mainly normative), ‘Pietist’ (mainly existential), and ‘Cultural-transformationalist’ (mainly kingly).

a. A ‘Doctrinalist’ looks to a text to see how it supports sound doctrine. This person makes the Enlightenment mistake that you can have objective knowledge without it being personal. The Reformed way to put this – is that all knowledge is ‘covenantal’. (See Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority and Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God). Their basic gist is this: no part of revelation is given simply to be known. Everything that is revealed is revealed for covenant service (Deut. 29:29). There is no neutrality—you are either in covenant service to God as you look at the world or in covenant service to some other Lord. Thus Frame in “God in our Studies” in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, pp. 81-84 is able to say that the way the Lord has structured knowledge so that you can understand God’s truth if know yourself, and your world, as well as the biblical text. The three perspectives “co-inhere’. You can’t really know what a biblical text means unless you also know how it is to affect the world and you. In short, if I don’t know how to use a text, I don’t know it’s meaning—so the difference between ‘meaning’ and ‘application’ is meaningless.

Many evangelicals, especially in the Reformed camps are afraid of subjectivism and of being ‘man-centered’. They want to simply “expound what the divine biblical text says, without regard to ‘felt needs’ or human concerns.” But that is impossible. The minute the doctrinalist starts reading a text, he is doing so with particular questions on his heart—the last Presbytery debate he was at, the last books he read, a particular cultural problem—and thus the reader finds in the Scripture the answers to the questions on his heart. If the Bible is a covenantal revelation—if, in fact, if all knowledge is covenantal—done in moral commitment to some ‘lord’ so that no such thing as neutral, value-free ‘fact’—then application to felt needs is happening in every interpretation and preaching. So you better do it consciously, to the people in front of you, or you will only be pleasing your self or even solving your own problems in the pulpit and starving everyone else.

b. A ‘Pietist” tends to look at every text as it relates to people psychologically and devotionally. The text is applied to answer the questions: How does this help us relate to the Lord? How does it help our prayer life? How does it show us how to live in the world? How does this help the non-believer find Christ? How does this help me handle my personal problems? The pietist is the best of the three at looking for ways to preach a text evangelistically and bring it to bear on the individual’s heart and conscience in order to get a ‘decision’. Also, the pietist is constantly aware of how Christians are loosing their internal spiritual grip on the doctrine of free justification and may be ‘returning to the bondage’ (Galatians 5:1) to false savior-gods (Galatians 4:8).

c. A Cultural-transformationist tends to look at the text as it relates to corporate and cultural issues, such as social justice and econmic fairness and Christian community building. The ‘Great Reversal’ of the cross means that the gospel proclaims a complete reversal of the values of the world—power, recognition, status, wealth. For example, the gospel is especially welcomed by the poor and for the poor (Luke 4:18 – He anointed me…to preach the gospel to the poor.” Cf. also Luke 7:22). Preaching the gospel and healing people’s bodies are closely associated (Luke 9:6). Jesus points to the coming kingdom of God that will renew all of creation. The gospel creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition—all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26). The cultural-transformationist looks at all things with this perspective.

So the doctrinalist reads Luke 4:31-37 and says: “This passage teaches the deity of Christ and demonstrates his sovereignty over evil spirits and also shows the grace of God toward people in bondage to sin.” The pietist looks at the same passage and says: “this passage teaches that Jesus can solve my problems if I let him and also that once I am delivered I have to tell my friends.” The cultural-transformationist reads the passage and says: “this passage shows Christ as an active power in the world, transforming the world, liberating people from oppressive structures” (See Poythress, pp. 1-4).

We need all three perspectives when thinking about writing application. Orthodox people are sensitive to ‘therapeutic’ and ‘liberationist’ idolatries. But they tend to cling to old Enlightenment idolatries themselves into a ‘doctrinalist’ idolatry. Since by temperament, we all have our ‘bent’, we should force ourselves to look at a text through all three application ‘perspectives’. When we do so, we will often see many rich possible uses of a text that otherwise we would miss.

2. The Three Perspectives and the question of ‘What is the Gospel’?

a. The Discussion. There is a rather significant and growing controversy going on about ‘what is the gospel?’ in evangelical circles today. Many people are saying that the traditional evangelical gospel is too ‘individualistic’ because it left out the ‘kingdom of God’. More and more are saying, “the gospel is the good news of the reign of God, not the good news that you can have personal forgiveness and peace with God.” (Much of this sort of language is inspired by the writings of Lesslie Newbigin, N.T. Wright, and the ‘Gospel and Our Culture Network’).

This kind of talk is both helpful and misleading. It is quite true that traditional evangelicalism has been individualistic, largely because of a lack of orientation to the redemptive-Historical perspective. It is quite true that ‘the kingdom’ is essential to the gospel. For example, the very concept of simul Justus et peccator—simultaneously legally ‘just’ and yet actually ‘sinful’, the very heart of Luther’s gospel—is based largely on the ‘already but not yet’ of the kingdom of God.

Justification by faith is possible because of the presence now of the future verdict upon God’s people on judgment day. When we are ‘born again’, we are born into the kingdom (John 3:1ff). So if you leave the kingdom of God out of the gospel preaching, you are being misleading. However, it may also be quite misleading for a preacher to simply say, “the good news is that the reign of God is here!” That can become a new moralism (a socially activistic moralism) that tells people “God’s program of creation renewal is going on, and you can join it.” But how does a person join it? By ‘getting with the program’ in some general way? By getting baptized and beginning to live according to kingdom values? This may end up being a new kind of self-effort. I doubt that preaching simply “the good news is the reign of God” is going to lead people to respond, “My chains fell off; my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

b. Three Perspectives on the Gospel. I think it is important to see that the gospel itself (just like the Tri-une God) should be understood through three perspectives as well. Each perspective is true in that it eventually comprises the whole, but each approach begins with a particular ‘door’ or aspect.

The ‘normative’ aspect I’ll call “the gospel of Christ” – stresses the objective, historic work of Christ that Jesus really came in time-space and history to accomplish all for us. It will talk much about the real, historicity of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (John Stott). This view thinks that the problem addressed by Paul in Galatians was a doctrinal heresy.

The ‘existential’ aspect I’ll call “the gospel of sonship” stresses our new identity in Christ as adopted children, liberated from the law. It will talk much of the power of the spirit to renew broken hearts and psyches (Jack Miller). This view thinks that the problem addressed by Paul in Galatians was a pastoral one of Christians falling back into legalism.

The ‘situational’ aspect I’ll call “the gospel of the kingdom” – stresses the reversal of values in the new creation. It will talk about healed community, cultural transformation, ministry of deed and justice (Harvie Conn). This view thinks that the problems addressed by Paul in Galatians was the lack of ‘table fellowship’ between Jew and Gentile.

We need all three perspectives, though each perspective is not simply a ‘part’ of the gospel. For example, the ‘kingdom’ perspective contains the other two. If God is king, then salvation must be by grace, for if we are saved by works, something else will be our Lord and Savior. Or, if we have a new identity in Christ by sheer grace, then we must not look down at anyone else, and self-justification is the basis of racism and injustice. If you go deep enough into any one perspective, you will find the other two.

What is ‘the Problem’? There is a great danger of getting locked into only one perspective because we get obsessed with some too-sweeping analysis of what the main problem “in our world today”. (1) If you think that subjectivism in society is the problem you will do the gospel of X and fear that sonship-gospel and the kingdom-gospel sound too much like the ‘liberal’ ideas. (2) If think that Pharisaical objectivism is the problem, you will do the sonship-gospel with more emphasis on personal individual emotional freedom. (3) If you think the main problem we face is old Enlightenment individualism, you will do the gospel of the kingdom with more emphasis on working together sacrificially to transform through the power of the gospel. But aren’t we facing all these problems?

Remember also that different groups and classes of people are in different conditions. With traditional cultures, the traditional evangelical gospel good, as it builds on a desire for historical evidence and a sense of ‘truth’. Traditional cultures (with their share of ‘failed Pharisees’) often respond well to the sonship-gospel, as may ‘post-modern’ people who have a desire for freedom. Many groups with a high ‘people-consciousness’ such as minorities will respond better to the kingdom-gospel, as will many post-modern people who think more so in terms of ‘sociology’ than psychology (identity politics).

So we should be careful. Most of us are ‘in reaction’ to some approach to the gospel we think is unbalanced. We must not over-react by getting ‘stuck’ in one perspective.

3. Case Study: Application for the Story of Esther

a. God calls us to serve Him in intensely secular settings (Cultural Transformationist). This message is similar (but stronger!) as that of the accounts of Joseph and Daniel. We learn here how a believer can be effectively used by God in the heart of secular and pluralistic culture, even in the centers of its power. In all three accounts, we learn of Jewish figures who rise to power in an unbelieving society through their skills and talents—and then use their places to save their people.

This is a threatening message to many Christians today. There has always been a strong tendency among orthodox believers toward separation from the polluted, unclean, and morally/spiritually ‘messy’ arenas of politics, business, government, and so on. But Esther is a concubine, a member of a harem!

“Let Esther’s harem represent every unclean political or commercial institution or structure where evil reigns and must be confronted. Believers are needed there…Our cities are full of dens of iniquity. Our culture is described as essentially post-Christian, secular, and often antithetical to biblical values and hostile to biblical virtues…[But] Esther gives us permission to reflect on our call to serve God within the matrix of a modern secular…system…How could God call Esther to be the interracial replacement spouse of a polygamous, pagan Persian king? …This book is off the screen for many evangelicals…We urban people need Esther now more than ever. Never allow it to be trivialized or spiritualized away, as it has been so often…” (Ray Bakke, A Theology as Big as the City, IVP, 1997).

b. God calls us not only to change individuals, but change society and culture (Cultural-transformationist). In each case we’ve looked at in this course—Joseph, Daniel, and Esther—God called someone to work for just laws and policies in a secular society. It is common for modern Christians to insist that the only way to change society is to convert and disciple individuals. If that is all there is to be done, then the ‘higher’ calling would be to go into Christian ministry. But the Bible shows us people who God also calls to work for social and “systemic” justice and peace in society. Esther used her position to have an unjust law repealed.

Ray Bakke reminds us that we must read Esther ‘synoptically’ with Ezra and Nehemiah (A Theology as Big as the City, p. 106). These three Jewish ‘heroes’ had three very different callings. Ezra was a clergyman, who taught the Bible to the restored community in Jerusalem. Nehemiah was a lay person who used his skill to literally rebuild the wall and infra-structure of Jerusalem to insure safe streets and a decent economy. Esther, meanwhile, used her position to work for just laws in the secular realm. Only all three people, working together, were able to rebuild Jerusalem into a viable city. One did evangelism/discipleship (working on spiritual welfare), one did community development (working on the social and economic welfare), one did social justice (creating laws that were just and allowed the community to grow). This was not only a lay-clergy leadership team, but a male-female leadership team.

This means that we will never see God’s kingdom move forward with only evangelism and discipleship. We must also do ‘wholistic’ ministry that works on behalf of the poor and at-risk neighborhoods, and we must also have Christians in ‘secular’ jobs working with excellence, integrity, and distinctiveness. We need Ezra ministry, Nehemiah ministry, and Esther ministry—all together—if we are going to ‘win’ our society for Christ.

c. God is the only real King (Doctrinalist).

We have noted that God’s name is never directly mentioned, why? The teaching is: God is sovereignly in control, even when he appears to be completely absent. The dramatic tension in the book revolves around a threat to the very existence of the Jews. If we put the book in its total biblical context, we know that this is really a threat to the whole plan of God to redeem the world by grace. Genesis 12:1-3 tells us that God planned to bring salvation into the world through a family and a people, descended from Abraham. Abraham’s people were to be guardians of both the true faith and the “Messianic seed” which would one day produce a savior who would redeem the world. A threat to the Jewish nation was, therefore, an attack by the world on God’s redemptive plan. However, largely through a set of “coincidences”, the Jews are saved. God’s plan to save the world through grace is intact.

“What the writer of Esther has done is to give us a story in which the main actor is not so much as mentioned—the presence of God is implied and understood throughout the story, so that these mounting coincidences are but the by-product of his rule over history and his providential care for his people. It is an extraordinary piece of literary genius that this author wrote a book about the actions and rule of God from beginning to end, and yet that God is not named on a single page of the story” (Dillard, p. 196).

What a vivid way to teach us that God is always present, even when he seems most absent and his purposes most ‘opaque’! The message of the book is that God’s plan of grace/salvation cannot fail, and though he may appear to be completely absent, he is really behind everything, working out His plan.

Because of this theme, the writer contrasts two conflicting world-views—that of Haman and that of Mordecai. Haman believes in chance-fate. He casts lots to determine the best time to annihilate the Jews (3:7-11). He thinks he can control history by the exercise of his power. The other world-view is that of Mordecai. He believes that there is a divine presence over-ruling history (4:14) who can use us if we make ourselves available to him, but whose plan is not dependent on nor thwarted by human power. “The book sets the two world-views in contrast and shows by the outcome which is to be preferred” (Baldwin, p. 38).

Nevertheless, we are taught that God’s sovereignty is not determinism. When the story is over, it will be possible to look back and see that so much of what happened was due to a divine power behind even the most mundane ‘accidents’. Yet the narrator does not depict a kind of fatalistic determinism. Our choices are not determined apart from the responsible exercise of our will. Esther will have to risk her life and act courageously if the salvation of her people will be realized. We are not just passive pawns in God’s plan.

d. Human strength is weakness and weakness can be strength (Pietist).

Recent commentators have noticed the weakness of men and the power of women in the book. In contrast to the huge show of power in his great feast, the drunken Xerxes tries to humiliate his wife who in turn humiliates him. In response, he decrees that all men should control their wives when he can’t control his own. The decree, evidently made when he was still drunk, only makes him look foolish. Later he appears to regret it on several fronts.

Not only is he ‘bested’ by his first queen, the rest of the book shows him being ‘bested’ by his next queen. While the king is revealed to be ill-informed, forgetful, impulsive, unjust, and unwise, his queen Esther is seen to be a brave, take-charge, focused, wise, and just person. Not only Vashti and Esther, but Haman’s wife Zaresh appear as ‘strong and shrewd’ while all the men (except Mordecai) appear vain and foolish.

Esther, of course, is the person who most of all stands the world’s expectations on their head. First, she was an orphan, without father or mother (2:7). Orphans are one of the most oppressed, powerless groups (cf. James 1:27). Second, she was a woman, and not a powerful or wealthy woman, but a concubine, the member of a harem. In the process of the narrative, however, she ascends from being an orphan and Mordecai’s protégé to being a queen of a great power, who makes plans and takes decisive leadership and who in the end is her uncle’s guardian. Originally, her physical beauty won the king’s heart, but 2:15 indicates that her character and behavior had won the attraction of the rest of the court as well. Esther comes from the outside margins of society and is used by God to do redemption. So again we see a very prominent theme in the Bible. God does not work through the channels that the world considers strong and powerful. Instead, He works through groups (women, racial minorities) who seem powerless. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

In a related theme, we learn that ‘the one who would lose himself will find himself’. We learn that evil sets up strains in the fabric of life and backfires on the perpetrator, while faithfulness to God is also wise. Haman, who intends to destroy Mordecai and his kin, ultimately destroys only himself and his kin. This theme is especially achieved through the literary device of irony. The gallows that Haman builds for Mordecai becomes his own place of execution. Haman seeks to plunder the wealth of the Jews, but it is his wealth that falls into their hands. The reversal of role and fortune that occurs so often in the Bible eventually finds its fullest expression in Jesus, who was exalted because He stooped so low. At the same time Satan is brought low because he sought exaltation.

Sum—Do what you can to penetrate the culture. Don’t live in a ghetto!—and when there, serve the Lord. Serve your people. Serve the interest of justice! Don’t be afraid to lose your power, even your life, for God is the real king! Don’t be seduced by human power, beauty, and acclaim!

‘WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT”

Now how can you do it all? You can’t! if we end the sermon right here, we’ll all be in despair. You don’t have the courage to do this. You may get excited today about doing this, but your courage will evaporate quickly. And you may decide you are going to make all the risks that Esther made, but when it comes down to it, you aren’t going to risk your influence and money and status to help people in needs. You just won’t have the ability to do so.

“BUT THERE IS ONE WHO DID DO THIS”

You have to often go into the palace—but not be tempted by the palace! You’ve got to be willing to leave the palace in order to serve your Lord! Ah, but why can’t we? We are enthralled by the acclaim and glory of the palace! How to free ourselves? Esther’s great temptation, once she comes into a place of luxury, comfort, and privilege, is to hold on to that position to the detriment of her people. When by God’s grace we come into such a standing, we may be seduced by it. Mordecai had to challenge Esther and force her to see her choices. Salvation comes through Esther only when she is willing to give up her place in the palace and take her life into her own hands and risk it all in order to intercede before the throne of power. Again we see that redemption comes not by gaining but by losing, not by filling oneself, but by emptying oneself.

We also see, over and over, that we need a deliverer who identifies with us and that stands as our representative—as in the career of Joseph in Egypt, David before Goliath. So in this story we are led to see Jesus, who did not need a challenge to leave his place of power, who saved us not at the risk of his glory but at the cost of his glory, who did not say, “if I perish, I perish” but “when I perish, I perish”, who had to die in order to stand before the throne as our intercessor (Heb. 7:24-25). But the “rest” that Jesus brings is not one that gives us rest from enemies by killing them, but by winning them. After the cross, we pray for our enemies. Jesus has brought the barrier down between Jew and Gentile, Saul and Amalek. We learn—Salvation “rest” comes by the sacrifice and intercession of another. We have one who was in the greatest palace of all, but who did not just serve his God at the risk of losing the palace, but at the cost His own life.

Source: Tim Keller – Personal Notes taken from Lecture at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando in the early 2000’s

 

 

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TIM KELLER: Preaching The Gospel In a Postmodern World: Session 4 Notes

SESSION 4: INTRODUCTION TO CHRIST-CENTERED APPLICATION

Tim Keller preaching image

INTRODUCTION

The historic Protestant doctrine is that we are not only justified by faith rather than our works, but we are also sanctified by faith rather than our works. Yet very few ministers know how Christ’s finished work is the dynamic and guide for growth into holy character.

A. Moralism vs. Sanctification by Faith.

1. The distinctives of sanctification by faith.

Excerpts from G.C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Eerdmans, 1952):

“The ancient feud of Rome with the Sola-fide doctrine, based as it is on the view that Sola-fide is subversive of sanctification, must be called Rome’s most fundamental error. It was no other than Sola-fide which made clear the true significance of sanctification, and distinguished it from all moralistic effort at self-improvement…” p. 14.

“Wesley admitted full acceptance of the Sola-fide doctrine. [But] one may accept the doctrine and then fail to do justice to it…One can assume it as one’s starting point, as did Wesley, and subsequently view the process of sanctification in terms of a dynamic category—a power plus its effects—without taking account of the bearings which faith always sustains toward divine grace. Sola-fide becomes a point of departure and breaks its connection with sanctification…When the victory of Christ is lost sight of, the warfare degenerates into self-reliant activism…it is on the road to making sanctification independent from justification.” pp. 52, 63.

Luther and Calvin taught that not only was justification by faith in Christ’s work—not ours, but sanctification is also by faith in Christ’s work, not ours. In practice, however, nearly every evangelical teaches that: 1) we are justified by faith in Christ’s work, and 2) we are sanctified by trying very, very hard to live according to biblical principles (with the Holy Spirit’s help, of course). Berkouwer insists that it is not salvation by grace, but sanctification by grace which is the biggest difference between the Reformers and the Catholic church and between the Reformers and later Methodism (Wesley) and much Protestantism today.

2. The general relationship of justification to sanctification.

Excerpts from G.C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Eerdmans, 1952):

“Orientation”“Genuine sanctification—let it be repeated—stands or falls with this continued orientation toward justification and the remission of sins…too often the bond between sanctification and Sola-fide was neglected and the impression created that sanctification was the humanly operated successor to the divinely worked justification.” P. 78.

“Feeding”“Holiness is never a ‘second blessing’ placed next to the blessing of justification…The exhortation which comes to the Church is that it must live in faith out of this fullness: not that it must work for a second blessing, but that it must feed on the first blessing, the forgiveness of sins. The warfare of the Church…springs from the demand to really live from this first blessing.”  p. 64.

“Commerce”“The believer’s constant ‘commerce’ with the forgiveness of sins and his continued dependence on it must—both in pastoral counseling and in teaching—be laid bare, emphasized, and kept in sight…Faith preserves us from autonomous self-sanctification and moralism.” pp. 84, 93.

Berkouwer says that it is a mistake to ask: “we know we have imputed righteousness, but now how do we move to actual righteousness?” We do not ‘move on’. Any particular flaw in our actual righteousness stems from a corresponding failure to orient ourselves toward our imputed righteousness. Sanctification happens to the degree that we “feed on” or “orient to” or “have commerce with” the pardon, righteousness, and new status we now have in Christ, imputed through faith.

3. The practical relationship of justification to sanctification.

Excerpts from martin Luther’s, Treatise Concerning Good Works (1520).

“There is not one in a thousand who does not set his confidence upon the works, expecting by them to win God’s favor and anticipate His grace; and so they make a fair of them, a thing which God cannot endure, since He has promised His grace freely, and wills that we begin by trusting that grace, and in it perform all works, whatever they may be” (Part IX).

“All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all the prayers, fasting, obedience, patience, chastity, and innocence of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham, show and pretense, with nothing back of them…If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior]…” (Part X, XI).

“This faith, faithfulness, confidence deep in the heart, is the true fulfilling of the First Commandment. Without this there is no other work that is able to satisfy this Commandment. And as this Commandment is the very first, highest and best, from which all the others proceed, in which they exist, and by which they are directed and measured, so also its work, that is, the faith or confidence in God’s favor at all times, is the very first, highest and best, from which all others must proceed, exist, remain, be directed and measured…” (Part IX).

“Note for yourself, then, how far apart these two are: keeping the First Commandment with outward works only, and keeping it with inward trust. For this last makes true, living children of God, the other only makes worse idolatry and the most mischievous hypocrites on earth…” (XII).

All people sin in general because we are sinners, but why do we sin in any particular instance? Luther—any sin is rooted in the inordinate lust for something which comes because we are trusting in that thing rather than in Christ for our righteousness or salvation. Therefore, in sin we are always ‘forgetting’ what God has done for us in Christ and instead are being moved by some idol. Luther says that to fail to believe God accepts us fully in Christ and to look to something else is a failure to keep the first commandment—love God with all the heart. Thus beneath any particular sin is the general sin of rejecting Christ-salvation and indulging in self-salvation.

Excerpt from the Belgic Confession – Chapter 24.

“We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true that his justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore, it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a ‘faith working through love,’ which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word…We would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be continually vexed if they relied not on the merits of our Savior.”

Unless we believe the gospel, we will be driven in all we do—whether obeying or disobeying—by pride (“self-love”) or fear (“of damnation”). Apart from ‘grateful remembering’ of the gospel, all good works are done then for sinful motives. Mere moral effort, may restrain the heart, but dos not truly change the heart. Moral effort merely ‘jury rigs’ the evil heart to produce moral behavior, out of self-interest. It is only a matter of time before such a thin tissue collapses.

B. Moralism vs. Gospel Virtue

1. The ‘Splendor’ or Common Virtue and its Weakness.

Excerpts from Jonathan Edwards. Abridged and paraphrased, from Charity and Its Fruits, in vol. 8, Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Paul Ramsey (Yale, 1989) and Religious Affections, in vol. 2, Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. J. Smith (Yale, 1959).

“A result of ‘faith working by love’ is freedom. On this basis, obedience is called “evangelical” (gospel-based)—the obedience of children to a Father, done with love and delight, as opposed to legalistic, slavish, and forced. God is now chosen for his own sake; holiness is chosen for its own sake, and for God’s sake” (CF, p. 182).

“No matter how many our acts of justice, generosity and devotion, there is really nothing given to God…if God is not the end (or ultimate aim) in what is given. If your aim is the gaining of reputation and love, then the gift was offered to your reputation. If your aim is for profit and comfort, then the gift was offered to your profit…indeed, in such cases the gifts are but an offering to some idol…It is true that by doing great things something is worshipped, but it is not God…” (CF, pp. 180-81).

“Those whose affection to God is founded first on his profitableness to them, only regard God to the limit of the good things he does to meet their desires…But in gracious gratitude, Christians are affected by God’s goodness and free grace, not only as it benefits them, but as infinitely glorious in itself…” (RA, pp. 243, 248).

What makes people honest? Generous? Jonathan Edwards tackled this over the years in his Miscellanies and then in his moral philosophy works: Charity and Its Fruits, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, and The Nature of True Virtue. He also says many relevant things about this in Religious Affections. The following is my summary of his “gist”.

There are two kinds of moral behavior: “common virtue” and “true virtue.” Let’s take one virtue: honesty. “Common” honesty is developed in two ways:

1) First it can be inspired by fear. There is the secular version—“be honest—it pays!” or “if you are not honest, society doesn’t work”. There is also the religious version—“if you are not honest, God will punish you!” These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that it is impractical to be honest.

2) Second, it can be inspired by pride. There is the secular conservative version—“don’t be like those terrible dishonest people who hurt others and have no virtue!” or the secular liberal version—“don’t be like these greedy people who don’t work for the common good”. There is also the religious version—“don’t be like these sinners, these bad people. Be a good godly person”. These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that I am better than these people who lie.

Edwards is by no means scornful of common virtue. Indeed, he believes in the ‘splendor of common morality’ (Paul Ramsay), which is the main way God restrains evil in the world. He does call it virtue and not sham. Nevertheless, there is a profound tension at the heart of common virtue. We just said that the main reason people are honest is due to fear and pride.

But what is the main reason we are dishonest? Why do we lie? Almost always—it is our fear or pride. So in common virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental causes of evil. In ‘common honesty’ you have restrained the heart, but not changed the heart. You are doing an ingenious for of judo on yourself. (Judo depends on using the enemy’s forward motion against him). You have ‘jury-rigged’ your heart so that the basic causes of dishonesty are being used to make yourself honest. But this is quite a fragile condition. At some point you will find that honesty is not practical nor humiliating and you will do it. Then you will be shocked. You will say, “I was not raised to do such a thing.”

But the reason you did, was that all your life, through the sermons and moral training you had, you were nurturing the roots of sin within your moral life. This is true whether you grow up in a liberal-moral environment or a conservative-moral environment. The roots of evil are alive and well and protected underneath your moral-behavior progress. And some day they erupt and show themselves and we are shocked.

2. The roots of “True Virtue” and its Nurture

Luther told us that the essence of every sin is a desire to be one’s own Savior and Lord in some particular way. It is to set up some idol which is the real way you are going to save yourself. It may even be a very ‘religious idol’ (cf. Judges 17:1-13). It may be a very religious life, but at the heart it is a way of using God as an object, rather than adoring him as being beautiful for who he is in himself. It is using obedience to God to achieve comfort, security, self-worth/status—therefore our ‘virtue’ is self-centered and conditional. It’s a form of bargaining. It is using our virtue to put God in our debt—he now owes us. He must give us salvation and blessing. Therefore, our obedience is a way to save ourselves and control God. Edwards (see above quote #2) also understands ‘common virtue’ as an idolatrous effort at self-salvation, rather than a response to grace (see above quote #3) in which God is adored for his sheer beauty.

So Edwards says—what is true virtue? It is when you are honest not because it profits you or makes you feel better, but only when you are smitten with the beauty of the God who is truth and sincerity and faithfulness! It is when you come to love truth telling not for your sake but for God’s sake and its own sake. But it particularly grows by a faith-sight of the glory of Christ and his salvation. How does ‘true honesty’ grow? It grows when I see him dying for me, keeping a promise he made despite the infinite suffering it brought him. Now that a) destroys pride on the one hand, because he had to do this for me—I am so lost! But that also b) destroys fear on the other hand, because if he’d do this for me while I’m an enemy, then he values me infinitely, and nothing I can do will wear out his love for me. Then my heart is not just restrained but changed. It’s fundamental orientation is transformed.

3. Thomas Chalmers on Moralism vs. Gospel Virtue.

“The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”, from The Works of Thomas Chalmers (New York: Robert Carter, 1830) vol. II.

The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify the heart, and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one…Thus it is that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying the Gospel. The more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as doctrine [leading to godliness]…

On the tenure of “do this and you will live”, a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence of intimacy between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness instead of God’s glory. With all the conformities which he labors to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy can it ever be. It is only when, as the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance. Only then can he repose in Him as one friend reposes in another…the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good…in the impulse of a gratitude, by which is he awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by works but according to the mercy of God is indispensable to godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel…and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [lawlessness], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it.

Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which in proportion as you impair the freeness, you are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.

[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed—and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.

It is thus that a boy ceases at length to be a slave of his appetite, but it is because a [more ‘mature’] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has…gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object is conquered—but its desire to have some object…is unconquerable…

The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…It is only…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us—it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, the only way that deliverance is possible.

Thus…it is not enough…to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of the evanescent character of your enjoyments…to speak to the conscience…of its follies…Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.

C. Moralism vs. Christ-centered Exposition.

We alluded above to the fact that Christ-centered exposition is very directly linked to Christ-centered application. It is possible to expound Christ and fail to do Christ-centered application, but it is impossible to do Christ-centered application in a sermon if you have not first done Christ-centered exposition.

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “how is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants of life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight the ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matthew 27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on. Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel—Salvation is the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

So reading the Old Testament Christocentrically is not just an “additional” dimension. It is not something you can just tack on to the end of a study and sermon. (“Oh, and by the way, this also points us to Christ”). Rather, the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text. Without relating it to Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac means: “You must be willing to even kill your own son for him.” Without relating it to Christ, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel means: “You have to wrestle with God, even when he is inexplicable—even when he is crippling you. You must never give up.” These ‘morals-of-the-story’ are crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do.

Source: Doctor of Ministry Class – Personal Notes – Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando – Class co-taught by Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney – early 2000’s. Class available for free on I-Tunes.

 

 

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Tim Keller: Preaching The Gospel in A Postmodern Culture – Session 3 Notes

Session 3: GETTING TO CHIRST

Tim Keller preaching image

(Strategies for Christ-Centered Exposition)

INTRODUCTION

How do we ‘get to Christ’, practically speaking, when preaching a text that is not directly about Jesus? When most people think of “Preaching Christ” from a text, they think of doing so by typology. They look in the text for a ‘type’ of Christ within the text. So for example, we may preach Isaac as the type of sacrificial son, or David as the type of the warrior-savior, and so on. But that is not the only way to preach Christ or to put a text in its “macro” context pointing to Christ. It is important to see how many different ways there are to ‘preach Christ’ besides direct typology. Sidney Greidanus lays out a number of ‘ways’ to preach Christ besides typology in his book Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Greidanus lists the following “Ways” from the OT Passages to Christ: a) Redemptive-Historical Progression, b) Promise-Fulfillment, c) Typology, d) Analogy, e) Longitudinal Themes, f) NT references, g) Contrast). Motyer also does so in his Look to the Rock. This is my own list which I believe incorporates the insights from their outlines. I made a list based on both their outlines (also consult the Scripture index in Clowney’s Unfolding Mystery).

A. Preaching Christ – AS THEME RESOLUTION

There are quite a number of what Don Carson calls ‘inter-canonical’ themes that ‘cut-across’ the entire biblical corpus. Currently, Carson is editing a series of books on these themes (They are called New Studies in Biblical Theology, put out under ‘Apollos’ imprint of IVP in the United Kingdom, IVP in the USA). Motyer’s Look to the Rock chooses seven of these themes and shows how Christ is the fulfillment of each. But Motyer points out that the OT asserts truths in apparently unreconcilable tension with each other. Thus these themes have ‘thickening plots’ as the OT goes on. In other words, like all good stories, there is a dramatic tension within the theme that seems almost insoluble. Only in Christ, however, are the ‘tensions’ in these themes resolved and fulfilled. With this approach, rather than only looking for ‘types’ we should look for the questions the text raises to which Jesus is ‘the answer in the back of the book’. If you find any of the following themes threading through your text (and this is not an exhaustive list) you can simply ‘pull on the thread’, looking back to where it began and ahead to its fulfillment in Christ now and on the Last Day.

“BROAD THEMES”

1. Theme of King and Kingdom. The freedom and glory of God’s kingdom is ‘lost’ when Adam and Eve sin. The search for a true ‘judge’ and king absorb much of the history of God’s people. The people continually fall away from submission to the rule of God and  instead serve idols, which oppress and enslave. Both the successes and failures of all Israel’s leaders point to the need for a true King. But eventually the tension between the brokenness and depth of sin and the requisite power of the Liberator-King becomes overwhelming. Though Moses leads the exodus out of the land of bondage, he fails to obey God at the Rock. Though David defeats Goliath, he sins against Uriah. No human king is enough. The expectations of a perfect King come to fruition in Isaiah and the Psalms to such a high degree that only the coming of the Lord himself can fulfill them.

Question: “how can any king be powerful enough to liberate us from slavery?” The answer: only one who is God himself. (e.g. In the Lord of the Rings – you need a King).

2. Theme of Grace and Law in the Covenant.

A second major theme of the Bible is how the holiness and love of God relate in the covenant. God is absolutely holy and also merciful. But how can he be both? Ray Dillard says that the histories of Judges through 2 Chronicles seem caught on the dilemma of whether God’s covenant with his people is conditional (conditioned on obedience) or unconditional (by sheer grace). Thus the narratives are mainly propelled by the tension of the question: “how can God be holy and still remain faithful to his people?” The answer: only in the cross, where both the law of God and the love of God was fulfilled. Dillard insists that we must not try to resolve this tension until we get to the cross. Isaiah points to a ‘resolution’ when he speaks of the need for both a High King and a Suffering Servant, but even he is essentially creating just more ‘dramatic’ tension that only Christ can resolve.

3. Theme of Creation, Fall, and Re-creation (Resurrection).

As the Kingdom theme shows us the need for a Liberator from idols and the covenant theme the need for a Redeemer from the Law so the theme of creation-and-consummation points to our need for a Healer who is Life itself. Death brings decay and disintegration to all God’s good creation. Life is filled with grief and loss. Society is a Babel. Even the people of God are in a kind of indefinite ‘exile’. We are alienated from our God, our true selves, one another, and from the creational environment. The question: “how can the creation be saved and healed? How can we be liberated from death and decay?” Answer: only if the one who created us returns to renew us at last. Only by the one who defeats death through the resurrection. He will reconcile ‘all things’ (Col. 1:16-20) and make the world into the Garden of God (Rev. 21:1-8).

“NARROW THEMES” (just some!)

4. Worship and the Sanctuary.

Question: How can we connect to the presence of God? Answer: The Presence was lost through sin. It dwells amidst the people in the tabernacle, but in Christ, God’s glory becomes something we ‘behold’ (John 1:14), and now the presence of God is actually within us (1 Peter 2). Some day, the light and presence of God will fill the earth. Jesus is the Beauty we must adore to live.

5. Righteousness and Nakedness.

Question: How can we be free of shame and condemnation? Answer: We were originally righteous and right with God—naked and unashamed. Jesus however is the perfectly obedient Son, clothing us in a robe of his own righteousness and lead us boldly and unashamedly before the throne.

6. Marriage and Faithfulness.

Question: How can we know love and intimacy? Answer: God depicts his relationship with this people as the relationship of a husband to an unfaithful wife. Jesus however, is the true bridegroom who sacrificially loves his spouse, wins her love, and presents her to himself as a radiant bride.

7. Image and Likeness.

Question: How can we become fully human beings? Answer: God made us in his ‘image and likeness’, but that likeness has been defaced in us, though not lost. In Christ and his incarnation, we have the perfect picture both of who God is (in terms we can literally grasp) and also of who we are meant to be. Through Christ the image of God is restored in us.

8. Rest and Sabbath.

Question: How can we find harmony with ourselves and those around us? Answer: We were originally called into the ‘rest’, the shalom of God, but now we are deeply restless. The Sabbath points to the rest from our physical work that we need. More profoundly, Christ brings us the spiritual rest from our good works (Hebrews 4). Finally, we will have the ultimate rest in the City of God.

9. Wisdom and the Word.

Question: How can we know the truth, especially the reason for our existence? Answer: We were created for a purpose, but now we experience meaninglessness. We do not have the wisdom to direct our steps. But in Christ we have not only the master teacher of the Word, but the Word, the Logos himself, who is the one we should live for, our meaning in life.

10. Justice and Judgment.

Question: If there is no ultimate judge, what hope is there for the world, so filled with tyranny and injustice, but if there is an ultimate judge, what hope is there for us, who have done so much wrong? (I.e. How can the Word of God be life-giving blessing and not just a curse?). Answer: only in Christ is there hope, for he is the Judge who took judgment, so God can be both Just and Justifier of those who believe.

“CROSS-CUT FACTORS”

11. Factor of Redemptive-Historical Progression.

The preacher must put the text into the ‘flow’ of God’s salvation history, because all of these themes build to fulfillment progressively. God establishes his world in creation, but through the Fall, nearly all is lost. Then God begins to re-establish (kingdom, sanctuary, Word, rest, covenant) with the patriarchs, then under Moses, then during the time of the Prophets. After this, all these themes flame into new brightness in Christ himself. Now God is working them out in the era of the church and will bring them to finality on the last day. Therefore, the theme of RH progress cuts across all other themes. It is usually important to make some reference to the whole story. For example, when preaching about the Psalmist’s desire to go to the sanctuary, we should not simply exhort our people to enjoy worship. Rather we should say, ‘now we are the temple (1 Peter 2:4-5) because Jesus is the temple (John 2:13ff.). How much more available must the Lord be now for rich communion?’ You can always trace each of these ‘broad’ or ‘narrow’ themes through the progressive unfolding of them.

12. Factor of Promise-Fulfillment.

Many of the ‘inter-canonical themes’ have explicit Old Testament promises attached to them. From the ‘mother promise’ of genesis 3:15 down, Jesus is the fulfillment of them all. Move from the promise (implicit or explicit) in your text down to its fulfillment in Jesus. Or, if you are preaching a text from the New Testament, show the history of the longings and promises that are the background to what is asserted. This gives ‘depth’ and ‘story’ to the rather abstract pronouncements of the epistles, especially.

B. Preaching Christ

BY LAW-COMPLETION

A third major way to ‘get to Christ’ is to take the “Law Listening” approach. This is based on the idea of Paul in Galatians 3:24 that the Law is ultimately meant to “lead us to Christ.”

In this approach, we take one of the many ethical principles and examples of the Bible—from the wisdom literature or the Old Testament law or even from a New Testament epistle—and truly ‘listen’ to it. These ethical principles are extremely searching and profound, and if we listen to them honestly and thoroughly, we will see that it is simply impossible to keep them! In Christ-centered preaching we argue that we have not truly ‘listened’ to the full weight of the rule till we see that Christ will have to fulfill this ethical principle for us.

Therefore, ultimately, Jesus is the only way to truly take the law seriously. The law does demand that we be perfectly holy. So we are not really listening to the law if we think we can obey it! The law is saying, in effect, “you can never fulfill me—you need a Savior!” (Galatians 3 & 4). Only if we know we aren’t saved by faith do have the strength to actually hear how extensive and searching and deep the demands of the law are.

What then do we exhort the people to do? The “Law Listening” approach does not say: “well, then you don’t really have to obey—after all, nobody’s perfect!” Instead, we show that we will not be truly freed and able to obey this principle until first we see that Jesus fulfilled it for us. This ties directly into Application Strategy “A. Critique Both Religion and Irrelegion”. Look there for more details.

But it is important to see that we do not need to find a ‘type’ or even an ‘inter-canonical theme’ in order to preach Christ from the text. It is not simply that Jesus Christ fulfills the requirements of the law on our behalf so we are not condemned by it. It is not even only that he exemplifies obedience to the law so that we might have a model for holy living. But since all human history only has happened because of Jesus (Genesis 3:15) and since we are created in his image, institutions like marriage, work, family, and community were designed to reflect him. In other words, it is not just that our relationship with Jesus is a good marriage, but marriage itself was invented to show us what our relationship with Jesus is to be like. Therefore, We can’t explain why we “shall not steal” unless we look at Jesus’ ultimate generosity, who “thought it not robbery” to remain in heaven but gave it away, who “though rich, became poor for your sakes”. We can’t explain why we “shall not commit adultery” unless we look at the faithfulness and (properly!) “jealous” love Jesus has shown to us on the cross. His “jealous” love does not only define sexual fidelity, but it gives us the only sufficient motive and power to practice it ourselves. Jesus is not simply the ultimate example, but as the fulfiller of the principles for us at infinite cost to himself, he changes the inner dynamics of our hearts so we can desire and long to be like him.

C. Preaching Christ

BY STORY-INSERTION

The second major way to ‘get to Christ’ is to take the micro-story line in your text and connect it to the Bible’s ‘macro’ story line: God is intervening into the history of a rebellious human race, by calling out and forming a new humanity, through actions that climax in the death and resurrection of Christ, and which lead to the judgment and renewal of the entire creation. There are two basic kinds of story-lines to be connected to the Christ-story line. (Much of the following is what is traditionally called ‘typology’).

1. Individuals’ story-lines.

All the individual stories point us to Jesus, as we locate them in the history of redemption (often with the direct help of the New Testament writers, often not). Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the temptation test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us (1 Cor. 15). Jesus is the true Abel who though innocently slain has blood that cries out for our acquittal, not our condemnation (Heb. 12:24). Jesus is the true Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the familial and go out into the void “not knowing whither he went!” Jesus is the true “Isaac” who is the son of the laughter of grace who was offered up for us all. He is the true Jacob, who wrestled with God and took the blow of justice we deserved so we like Jacob only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up. He is the true Joseph, who at the right hand of the king forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them. Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant (Heb. 3). He is the true Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert. He is the true Joshua who is the general of the Lord’s army. He is the true and better Job—the only innocent sufferer who then intercedes for his friends (Job 42). Jesus is the better Samson, whose death accomplishes so much good (Judges 16:31). He is the true David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves. Jesus is the true “Teacher” (Ecclesiastes) who may lead us through despair to help us find God. He is the true Jonah who went into the belly of the earth and so the people could be saved.

2. Corporate story-lines.

It is not simply the stories of individuals that point us to Christ. The redemptive purpose of God (easier to see in the RHM than the STM!) is to redeem a people and renew creation. Therefore, the major events in the history of the formation of the people of God also point us to Christ. Jesus is the one through whom all people are created (John 1). Thus the creation story itself points forward to the new creation in Christ. Jesus is the one who went through temptation and probation in the wilderness. Thus the story of the Fall points forward to the successful probation and active obedience of Christ. Thus the exodus story points forward to the true exodus Jesus led for his people through his death (Luke 9:31). He led them not just out of economic and political bondage to sin and death itself. Thus the wandering in the wilderness and the exile to Babylon points forward to Jesus’ ‘homelessness’ and wandering and wilderness temptation and his suffering as the scapegoat outside the gate. He underwent the ultimate exile which fulfilled the righteousness of God fully.

Jesus is very literally the true Israel, the Seed (Galatians 3:16-17). He is the only one who is faithful to the covenant. He is a remnant of one. He fulfills all the obligations of the covenant, and earns the blessings of the covenant for all who believe. When Hosea talks about the exodus of Israel from Egypt, he says, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Hosea 11:1). Hosea calls all of Israel “my son”. But Matthew quotes this verse referring to Jesus (Matthew 2:15) because Jesus is the true Israel. As we have seen above, just as Israel was in bondage in Egypt but was saved by the mighty redemptive actions of God in history, so Jesus leads the new people of God out of bondage to sin through the mighty redemptive actions of God in history (his death and resurrection).

3. Grace-pattern story-lines.

Another kind of ‘typology’ that is often overlooked is narrative pattern of life-through-death or triumph-through-weakness pattern which is so often how God works in history and in our lives. Notice how everyone with power and worldly status in the story of Naaman is clueless about salvation, while all the servants and underlings show wisdom. This is a major pattern in the Bible, a gospel-pattern, a grace event or a grace ‘story-line’. Move from the grace-event to the work of Christ. For example, few have considered either Esther or Ruth to be a ‘type’ of Christ, and yet, in order to redeem the people they love, they must risk loss and do many things that mirror how Christ brought salvation to us. Another, important Grace-event typology is the ‘order’ of the Exodus and the Law-giving. God did not first give the law and then deliver the people. First he delivered the people and then he gave them the Law. Thus we are not saved by the Law, but saved for the Law. The Law is how we regulate our love-relationship with God, not the way we merit the relationship. We are saved by faith in Christ.

By the way, Sidney Greidanus does not like to call this ‘typology’ at all, and prefers to call this ‘preaching Christ by analogy’.

It is especially important to see the importance of tying even the deeds of Christ to his own work. Why can Jesus be so accepting of outcasts and sinners? Only because he paid the penalty for them on the cross. If we preach his examples of loving acceptance without tying them to the pattern of the cross, we are simply ‘moralizing’. We are simply telling people, “be accepting and tolerant of others.”

D. Preaching Christ

BY SYMBOL-FULFILLMENT

We briefly mentioned above how to determine if a particular feature in a text has symbolic significance for the author. In general, if a feature has symbolic significance for the author (symbolizing God’s saving activity in some way) then it may be seen as a type of Christ, even if the author does not evidently have Christ consciously in mind. This is an area where abuse is quite possible. For example, does Eve’s creation out of the side of Adam symbolize our redemption out of the wounding of Christ’s side in his execution? (Example from Greidanus, p. 37). Unlikely. We can’t go into this here. Rather, we assert that symbolism-typology is quite important in the Bible and here are some ways symbols function.

1. Major Figure Typology and Symbols.

All the major figures and leaders of the Scriptures point us to Christ, who is the ultimate leader who calls out and forms the people of God. Every anointed leader—every prophet, priest, king, judge who brings about ‘salvation’ or deliverance or redemption of any kind or level—is each a pointer to Christ, both in their strengths and even in their flaws. Even the flaws show that God works by grace and uses what the world sees as marginal and weak. The ‘outsiders’ who God uses, especially those in the line of the promised ‘seed’, point to him (cf. Matt. 1:1-11). He is the fulfillment of the history of the judges who show that God can save not only many, or by few, but by one. Jesus is the judge all the judges point to (since he really administers justice), the prophet all the prophets point to (since he really shows us truth), the priests all priests point to (since he really brings us to God), and the King of kings.

2. Non-Personal Salvation Typology and Symbols.

Trace the ‘salvation-by-grace’ symbols to their fulfillment in Christ. The bronze snake, the water of life from the smitten rock point to Christ, of course (since John and Paul tell us they do!). But especially the entire sacrificial and temple system is really pointing to him. Absolutely everything about the ceremonial system—from the clean laws to the altar, the sacrifices, and the temple itself—are pointing to him. The Sabbath and the Jubilee point to him. He makes them all obsolete. Jesus is the sacrifice all the sacrifices point to (Hebrews 10). Jesus is the bread on the altar in the temple (John 6), the light stand in the Holy Place (John 8), and the temple itself (John 2), for he is the presence of God with us. Jesus fulfills circumcision—it represents how he was cut off from God. Now we are clean in him (Col. 2:10-11). Jesus is the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7).

“Cross-Cut” Category—Way of Contrast.

Sidney Greidanus is helpful when he reminds us that we do not need a good example in our text in order to ‘get to Christ.’ When we say Christ is the completion or fulfillment of every text, that means that he is not only a comparison but a contrast to every text. Christ is a better David, Samson, and Moses—so we don’t have to apologize for their flaws. Their flaws show us Christ by way of a contrast. Or look at the cries for justice in the Psalms. In one sense, Christ validates those cries—injustice is serious! In another sense, however, Jesus’ fulfillment now leads us to think of our enemies in a different way than David did.

Source: Personal Notes from Doctor of Ministry Class at Reformed Theological Seminary in the early 2000’s.

 

 

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Tim Keller: Why Do Christ Centered Application? Session Notes Part 2

Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World – Part 2

Tim Keller praching w bible image

CHAPTER 2 – WHY DO CHRIST-CENTERED EXPOSITION?

INTRODUCTION

The first ‘aspect’ of the model is ‘Expounding Christ’ from the Scripture. This part of the course will be carried out by Ed Clowney. Here are some of my (Tim Keller) thoughts by way of overview and introduction. The ability to ‘expound Christ’ from every part of the bible is crucial. Many people resist this approach (on the ‘left’?) as hyper-orthodox or (on the ‘right’?) as not sufficiently honoring the original author’s intent. Others just avoid this approach for pragmatic reasons, claiming that it is too difficult to do week after week. Both the resistance and the despair have some merit! There are both dangers and difficulties that attend this approach.

(A) THE ESSENCE OF THE APPROACH

What does it mean to “preach Christ” from all the Scripture? Sidney Greidanus writes, “We can define ‘preaching Christ’ as preaching sermons which authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ” (Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 10).

This definition assumes that every text has both a ‘micro’ and a ‘macro’ context. To understand any particular text of the Bible, we must first put it into the ‘micro’ context—its historical and linguistic setting, in order to discern the immediate intent of the human author. But every biblical text also has a ‘macro’ context—its place in the entire Bible which has as its purpose the revelation of Christ as the climax of all God’s redeeming activity in history. We must not only ask: ‘what did the human author intend to say to his historical audience?’ but also ‘why did God inscripturate this as a way of pointing to the salvation of his Son?’

THE RATIONALE FOR THE APPROACH

1. The direction of Jesus.

When Jesus met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he discovered that they were in despair because their Messiah had been crucified. He responds, “’how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken!’…and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-29). Later he appears to his disciples in the upper room and we are told “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you; everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). Jesus blames the confusion of the disciples on their inability to see that all the Old Testament is “all” about him and his salvation. Another place where Jesus makes this same assertion is John 5:31-47. Jesus says that the father has testified to him in the Scriptures (v. 39). But he confronts his hearers with how they do not understand the Scriptures’ testimony. He says, for example, that they think they follow Moses, but “Moses wrote about me.” (v. 46). The Law of Moses can only be understood as it points to Christ.

2. The example of the apostles.

The apostolic writers are famously ‘Christ-centered’ in their interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, continuously quote Psalms as the words of Christ—and not just ‘Messianic’ or ‘Royal’ Psalms where the speaker is some clearly Messianic figure. The gospel writers also quote passages from the Psalms and Prophets that clearly show they read the words of the Scriptures as being all about Jesus. Peter writes: Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10-12). He shows that the ‘Spirit of Christ’ in the prophets was pointing to the person and work of Christ in their writings.

So it is not likely that Jesus or Peter are simply talking about isolated, explicit predictions of the Messiah (cf. Gen. 3:15; 49:10; Is. 9:6; 53). That would not do justice to the comprehensiveness of the language employed. Jesus says that “all the Scriptures” point to him and that each part—the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature—are about him (Luke 24:44-45). It is particularly interesting that he would say that the “Law” is about him! We might understand how he could say that the prophetic literature was about him—but the Law? What we have here is that all the major themes, major figures, major genres, and major story lines are reflective of and fulfilled in him.

“There are great stories in the Bible…but it is possible to know the Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story…The Bible has a story line. It traces an unfolding drama. The story follows the history of Israel, but it does not begin there, nor does it contain what you would expect in a national history…If we forget the story line…we cut the heart out of the Bible. Sunday school stories are then told as tamer versions of the Sunday comics, where Samson substitutes for Superman. David…becomes a Hebrew version of Jack the Giant Killer. No, David is not a brave little boy who isn’t afraid of the big bad giant. He is the Lord’s anointed…God chose David as a king after his own heart in order to prepare the way for David’s great Son, our Deliverer and Champion…” – Ed Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery

Summary: Every part of the Bible is about the historical unfolding revelation and accomplishment of the gospel – salvation through Jesus Christ. The Bible is not a collection of “Aesop’s Fables”, it is  not a book of virtues. Paul shows in Galatians 3 that there is a complete unity in the Bible. There is a story within all the Bible stories. God is redeeming a people for himself by grace in the face of human rebellion and human desire for a religion of good works.

3. The problem of ‘moralism’.

The ultimate reason that we expound Christ in every passage is because that’s the truth! The whole Bible is about Christ. But there is a very practical reason we expound Christ as well. Ed Clowney points out that if we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the Bible story (about Christ), we actually change the meaning of the particular event for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to ‘try harder’ rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what Jesus has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship).

Any exposition of a text that does not ‘get to Christ’ but just ‘explains biblical principles’ will be a ‘synagogue sermon’ that merely exhorts people to exert their wills to live according to a particular pattern. Instead of the life-giving gospel, the sermon offers just one more ethical paradigm to crush the listeners.

(C) OBJECTION TO THE APPROACH

1. The concern of allegorizing.

The main danger (and main objective) to the Christo-centric approach is the danger of allegorizing. An example that Sidney Greidanus uses from Augustine.

“The door [in the side of the ark] surely represents the wound made when the side of the crucified was pierced with the spear…This is the way of entrance for those who come to him…” (City of God 13.21).

“Allegorizing” has two very bad effects. 1) It makes for completely arbitrary interpretation. Instead of living under the authority of the Word, we can get nearly any message from a text we wish. 2) It fails to honor the meaning and message of the human author, whose conscious intent is the vehicle for God’s revelation. Modern interpreters, both of an orthodox and liberal bent, eschew allegorizing by concentrating wholly on the original intent of the human author as the only sure and certain benchmark. But there are dangers on the other extreme as well.

2. Remembering the Two Authors

Rodney A Whitacre writes that there have always been two basic emphases or approaches to biblical interpretation. The first he calls this the “Historic Approach” to Bible interpretation. This stresses the fact that each text has a very human author. This approach asks “What did the human biblical author intend to say? What did it mean to the original author and audience? To discover this, the interpreter looks at the linguistic, literary, and historical evidence. But Whitacre also speaks of the “Organic Approach” to Bible interpretation. This stresses the fact that all of Scripture has a divine author. This approach asks: “What does the divine biblical author intend for us to hear? Why did he put this in the Bible for us” To discover this, the interpreter looks at all the Bible (especially texts that are most like and most unlike it) and at Jesus Christ, who (as we have seen) the overall message of the Bible is about. (Rodney A. Whitacre, “Hearing God’s Truth: A Beginner’s Guide to Studying the Scriptures”. Available at the website of the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Http://www.tesm.edu/writings/whithear.htm.).

a. The Extreme Forms. (1) At the extreme end of an “Organic-Only” approach, we have wildly Allegorical Interpretation. Whitacre gives an example of this in a famous interpretation of Psalm 137:8-9 by the medieval church. “O daughter of Babylon…happy is he…who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” The allegorical interpretation goes like this. Jesus is the Rock. Babylon represents evil and sin. So we are being told to take even our littlest sins and most embryonic sinful thoughts and dash them on Christ. This interpretation connects to other parts of the Bible (Christ as the Rock, the need for purity and holiness) but it makes no attempt to connect to the original historic meaning of the text. (2) At the other extreme of a “Historic-Only” approach to the original “Historic-Only” approach, we have most scholarship in the world today—the Historical Critical Interpretation. It makes no attempt to align or integrate what Paul says with what Isaiah says. There is no concept of any divine authorship or divine unity. Any attempt at harmonization is scorned and disdained. The meaning of the ancient texts is locked away, therefore, in a very ancient time, and has nothing to do with us directly. Any normative or systematic theology is impossible.

b. Moderate Forms. Within the mainstream of the evangelical world these two extremes are rightly discarded. (Of course, the highly allegorical reading of the Bible is quite prevalent among lay people in all churches). But two more moderate forms of the two poles creates real confusion among orthodox students of the Bible today. (1) First, there is a moderate Evangelical-Historical approach which does allow for ‘harmonization’ with other texts for the purpose of Systematics, but is not comfortable with reading any meanings out of a text that the human author did not know of. Because this view believes in the divine authorship of the entire Bible, it will accept that an OT author was talking unwittingly about Jesus, but only when a NT author tells us that he was. (2) On the other hand, the Redemptive-Historical approach, which stresses more the organic unity of divine authorship, believes that many texts mean more than the human author intended. By the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, an OT text may tell us about Jesus Christ and we may discover this, even if no NT author tells us so.

c. Criticisms. (1) Of the “Redemptive-Historical’ approach: First, there is a real danger of allegory. If you are not ‘controlled’ in your interpretation by first establishing the human author’s intention, then your imagination can just run wild, and you can get anything out of it. Second, since you are always trying to ‘find Christ’ in the text, you may miss the very real practical applications and moral exhortations that are there. The people will get an inspiring picture of Jesus, but not get any real practical direction in how to live their lives. Third, it could be hard for your lay people to learn how to interpret the Bible with this method. When you are done, they’ll say: “My! I could never get all that out of a text.” And they’ll be right.

(2) But the criticisms of the ‘Historical-Intent Only’ approach are, I believe, more trenchant. First, the New Testament writers continually interpret the Old Testament using the ‘Organic’ or ‘Redemptive-Historical’ approach. They are constantly reading Psalms and other parts of the Bible as being about Christ, even when those texts have no clear “Messianic Prophecy” in them. This was clearly a ‘model’ with which the NT writers were interpreting the OT. Why not use the model?

Second, the historical approach often speaks of the Christo-centric approach being ‘arbitrary’, but it’s own method is much more speculative than it seems to realize. We are never sure we are able to reconstruct the original condition and historical setting. We are never sure we are right about the original audience. It takes a great deal of imagination and guess-work to posit authorial intent. So the grammatico-historical exegesis is not as scientific and objective as it might first appear.

Third, we must be able to preach Christ from a text, or we have the problem of ‘synagogue’ sermons. We are preaching the same sermon that could be preached in a synagogue—“Here is the righteous law. Do it and you will live.”

Fourth, the ‘Historical-Intent Only’ approach implies that the Church was not able to interpret the Bible properly until very recently we had the historical tools to discern original settings (See Moises Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible? Zondervan, 1984).

3. The Difference between an “Allegory” and a “Type”

The biggest practical issue that comes to us in this discussion is—how can you tell the difference between a “type” and an “allegory”? The Redemptive-Historical approach finds typos of Christ in OT texts even where a NT writer does not indicate that there is one. How can you be sure you are not allegorizing? Based on the writings of Clowney and Rod Whitacre’s paper, here is a summary of the difference.

a. Typology: (1) (Clowney) A type is based on something in the text of symbolic significance to the human author and in the Scriptures in general. There must be evidence that the author saw a feature or figure as having more significance of symbolism. For example, is the fact that the chord Rahab uses to mark and protect her home (Joshua 2) is scarlet significant to the author? Or does the color red symbolize blood or sacrifice in general in the Bible. If not (and I don’t think we can demonstrate that it does), then we cannot preach that the chord represents the blood of Christ protecting us from the justice and wrath of God—as some people have done. However, we can preach the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites that way (Exodus 12). Can we preach that God’s choice of Leah as the mother of the Messianic seed is a type of God’s salvation through weaknes and rejection (Matthew 1:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:26ff.)? We would have to demonstrate that the author of Genesis knew that Judah was the bearer of the Messianic strain and therefore it’s coming to Leah rather than Rachel was an act of grace. I believe we can (Genesis 49:10). Can we preach that Isaac represents Christ? Yes, because in the Old Testament, the first-born had redemptive significance. Every first born belonged to God, etc.

(2) (Whitacre) A type is also based on connections between macro features and figures. It sees similarities between persons (prophets, priests, kings), events (Passover, exodus), and patterns of practice (aving through rejection, weakness). For example, in 2 Kings 5, we see a type of Christ’s revelation in the exclusivity of the prophet Elisha. Naaman must go to Israel, and he must wash in the Jordan. Because the Lord’s salvation is a revealed salvation, we must submit to that revelation. On the other hand, we see a type of Christ’s salvation in the prominence of the servants. Naaman keeps going to kings, but God sends his salvation through the weak and marginal. He must go to weaker country than Syria, he learns of his salvation through a servant girl who was victimized by his military, he only avoids disaster when his own servants reason with him to listen to Elisha. Because the salvation comes through weakness and the powerless, we receive it by repentance and faith alone, and we thereafter refuse to worship at the shrine of worldly power and wealth. So types focus on ‘macro-patterns’ of revelation and salvation rather than descending to details.

b. Allegory: (1) Allegory, by contrast, seeks no basis in the author’s original intent. Of course, it reads everything as symbolic, but it makes no attempts to show through linguistic or literary analysis that the feature it fixes on was of some symbolic significance to the human author. In other words, it ignores the human nature of the Bible and treats it as if it were simply a supernatural text. (2) Secondly, allegory focuses on micro-features such as words or even numbers. It may take the two coins that the Good Samaritan left with the innkeeper as the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, left by Jesus to sustain and heal us. It may take the ‘little ones’ of Ps. 137:8-9 as our sinful thoughts or our ‘little’ white lies. Instead of seeking to identify broader patterns of salvation with Jesus’ pattern of salvation, it fixes on details.

Appendix #1 – Historic and Organic: An Outline of Positions

“Historical-Critical”

“I interpret the human biblical author’s original meaning without alignment with meaning of the other biblical authors.”

Historical

“What does the human author mean?”

“Historical-Evangelical”

“I interpret the human biblical author’s original meaning in alignment with other human authors. But I do not look for meanings in the text that the human author did not put there.” Typology – only if the NT tells me specifically.

“Redemptive-Historical”

“I interpret the human biblical author’s original meaning not only in alignment with other human authors. I also look for meanings that the divine author may have put there that the human author did not.” Typology – based on Symbolic significance.

“Organic”

“What does the divine author mean?”

“Allegorical”

“I interpret the biblical text without much regard for the human biblical author’s original meaning. I use it to confirm or illustrate other texts in the Bible.

D. MAJOR ADVANTAGES OF THE APPROACH

1. Two Basic ‘Theological Frameworks’.

Richard Lints, in The Fabric of Theology (Eerdmans, 1993) points out that what we have been calling ‘Christ-centered’ exegesis is more than a way to interpret texts. He believes that one very significant difference among evangelicals lies between those who organize doctrines into a “redemptive historical” framework and those who organize doctrines along the lines of a “redemptive historical” framework and those who organize doctrines along the lines of a “systematic-topical” framework (See pp. 259-290). The first framework (which he connects with the names of Vos, Kline, and Gaffin) sees the basic theological structure of Scriptures as a series of historical epochs in which God progressively reveals more and more of his redemptive purposes in Christ through successive covenants (Creation, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Christ-inaugurated, Christ-consumated). The second framework (which connects with the names of Hodge, Berkhof, and Erickson) sees the basic framework of Scripture as a series of logical categories or subject headings around which the varied texts of Scriptures are organized to produce doctrines (God, Man, Christ, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification).

What is the difference? Lints argues that the redemptive-historical model (RHM) is better than the systematic-topical model (STM), and so do I. John Murray speaks of the “tendency to abstration” of the STM, the tendency to dehistoricize, and to arrive at “timeless”, topically oriented universals. (“Systematic Theology” in the New Testament Student and Theology, J.H. Skilton, ed. P&R, 1976). RHM, on the other hand focuses on God’s special revelation not primarily as ‘naked information’ but primarily as God’s activity in history. This means:

2. Theological frameworks Compared

a. The RHM gives us a dymanic view of our place in redemptive history. The RHM tells that we are now in a particular period of redemptive history (between the first and second coming of Christ). This is the period of the “already-but-not-yet” of the kingdom of God, which sets us apart from the epoch previous to and following this one. The STM model has little concept of the all-pervasiveness of the kingdom of God. It tends to see the kingdom mainly in terms of one of the traditional ‘millennial’ positions.

The massive importance of the ‘already-but-not-yet-kingdom’ for both faith and practice is largely missed by those steeped in the STM approach. It tends to think of biblical truth in a-historical categories of doctrine which we now have to “apply” to our lives today. It tends to rely mainly on “correctness” or technique (“5 principles for overcoming worry”). The RHM avoids over optimism or pessimism or legalism by focusing always on the dynamic-kingdom-epoch lifestyle we live out now. The City of God and the City of Man are present realities. Christ as died, risen, and ascended has put us in a particular, current, dynamic relationship to God, our sin, our past, the Spirit, the world, and to the assembly of heaven itself. It tells us about this new relationship and status we have now, and how to live it out as the people of God in this entire epoch. This is a far more “organic” way to think out Christianity.

John Stott, in a very interesting and easy-to-understand chapter called “The Now and Not Yet” in The Contemporary Christian (IVP, 1992) shows what a powerful effect this theological category has on our practice. This understanding of our place in RH keeps us from fundamentalism (the “not yet Christians”), Pentecostalism (the “already” Christians), and Liberalism (in some ways too “not yet” and in other ways too “already”). It keeps us from over or under-discipline, from over- or under-emphasis on evangelism or social concern, from over optimism or under-optimism about revival, and so on. A-historical (STM) understandings of the Bible lead constantly to these extremes. By the way, Jonathan Edwards noted these same three enemies of true revival—Dead orthodoxy, Enthusiasm, and Heterodoxy.

b. The RHM gives us a more biblical and less “western” framework. Harvie Conn in Eternal Word and Changing Worlds (Zondervan, 1984) points out that the highly rational, scientific approach of STM is difficult for people of non-Western cultures to enjoy or grasp. Many are now pointing out the many of the formulators of STM were unwittingly shaped and affected by the Enlightenment, its detached rationality and its mistrust of history. Harvie (and Rick) note that the RHM gives much more weight to the fact that the Bible is filled with narrative. The gospel itself is a true story, not a set of “principles” or “laws”. The STM approach has ‘de-storied’ the gospel. Harvie also points out that RHM understands that all God’s truth is covenantal truth, never abstract from history and life. (See pp. 225-234). Thus preaching and teaching from the RHM tends to be much less pietistic and abstract from life. All of this means that RHM s a vastly better vehicle for spreading the gospel through and to all people groups.

c. The RHM gives us a more corporate and less individualistic approach to ministry.

The RHM understands that the goal of salvation history is not simply a ‘right relationship’ with God and live in heaven forever. The goal of redemption is really ‘re-creation’. God’s saving purposes culminate in a new creation, not a disembodied eternal state. The gospel is not that we get to escape earth into heaven, but that heaven “comes down” to transform the earth. The church, then, is not simply an aggregation of people who help one another find God, but it is called to be in this world a sign of the coming new creation. We are to embody the ‘new humanity’ that Christ is creating.

All of this drastically undermines the pietistic,, individualistic, privatistic Christianity that can be a result of the STM approach. While the STM approach points us more to how we as individuals get peace with God and ‘live right’, the RHM framework calls us to live our lives out as a ‘counter-culture’, a new nation, in which our business practices, race relations, artistic expressions, family life, etc., show the world what humanity could be like under the Lordship of Christ. And the RHM emphasis on ‘new creation’ calls us to be concerned for the social and material world, since God’s ultimate salvation will not only redeem the soul but the body and the physical world as well.

d. The RHM gives a much more relevant approach to ‘post-modern’ times. This point is closely connected to the previous one. “Post-meodern” times are characterized by a rejection of the Enlightenment worship of rationality and technique, and is much more devoted to narrative and story as ways of finding meaning. Also, post-modernity rejets the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the individual and stresses the importance of community. As we have just seen, the RHM shows us all those resources in biblical theology that the STM approach has tended to overlook. It breaks the Bible into stages of a Story—the story of Jesus and his salvation—while the STM breaks the Bible into logical categories. More than that, the RHM actually puts us into the story, showing us our place and stage in the unfolding of the kingdom of God. The RHM approach also shows concern for the regeneration of human community and even the physical environment, not just individual, interior happiness. In all these ways, RHM is much more relevant to post-modern sensibilities.

e. The RHM gives us a more Christ-centered understanding of the Bible. The RHM sees each epoch of redemptive history as being the progressive revealing of Christ. God could have poured our judgment on mankind in the Garden, therefore the only reason there is any history is because God has purposed to send his Son into the world, to pour out judgment on him and thereby bring salvation. Jesus is the only reason there is human history, and therefore he is the goal of human history. Thus everything God says and does in history explain and prepare for the salvation of his Son. The STM, on the other hand, will examine the Law, the prophets, and history of Abraham, Moses, David, etc. for information about the various doctrinal topics—what we learn about how to live, what to believe. But the RHM sees every story and law and piece of wisdom literature as pointing to Christ and his work. Preaching and teaching from an STM framework tends to be much more moralistic and legalistic.

f. The RHM gives us a more organic way of reading biblical texts. The RHM works at understanding the differences between stages in redemptive history, while the STM largely ignores such study. But many disputes over the application of the Old Testament laws are really based on a lack of understanding of the role which the Mosaic regulations played in that time in redemptive history (i.e. how they helped us look to and prepare for God’s coming salvation) and of how that role is fulfilled in Christ.

Maybe even more fundamentally, the RHM really leads us to see the very purpose of each biblical passage differently. We have said that RHM understands God’s revelation never comes in the form of textbook type information, but in the form of covenant. Why? Because the purpose of God’s truth is never to merely inform, but to know God in a relationship of love and service. For example, if we read Genesis 1-2 with an STM mind-set, expecting “naked information” about how the world was created, we will see it differently than those who read with a RHM mind-set, expecting knowledge of who are Creator is and how we are to relate to him and to his creation.

Concluding Note: Do not read the above as pitting Systematic Theology per se against ‘Biblical Theology’. There have been many proponents of the RH approach that virtually deny the ability to do coherent ST at all. This is going too far by far, and such a denial ultimately undermines the concept of a single divine author of the whole Bible.

Source: Personal Notes from D.Min Course Co-Taught by Ed Clowney and Tim Keller from Reformed Theological  Seminary

 

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Tim Keller: Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World – Session 1

Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World: Introduction to the Christ Centered Model of Preaching

Tim Keller preaching image

Notes from a Tim Keller Lecture 

In order to prepare a good sermon the preacher should be asking:

What does this text tell me about the person and work of Jesus?

In preaching the preacher should be asking the people:

How am I failing to rejoice in and live as if this text is true about who Jesus is?

The preacher should be showing that people are poor due to their lack of faith in Christ.

The aim of every sermon is to experience Christ through the text. You need to get people to adore and enjoy Christ through the text. We shouldn’t preach principles or examples to live up to but re-assure people that living a holy life is derived from faith in Christ.

In a lecture the aim is to transfer information.

In a sermon the aim is to be get the listener to worship on the spot.

Three types of questions to evaluate a sermon:

1) Was it a sound sermon? Was Jesus the climax of the text?

2) Was it practical? Was Jesus presented as the solution to spiritual problems?

3) Was there a sense of God? Was Jesus made visible or only talked about?

Three types of emphases in preaching:

1) Doctrinal Preaching

  • Too much expounding

  • Hits the intellect and not the heart

  • Doesn’t lead the hearers to worship

2) Practical Preaching

  • Hits the will

  • Doesn’t challenge the mind

  • It majors on application

  • The sermon acts like a manual on how to live

  • Little theology and passion

3) Devotional Preaching (Narrative Preaching)

  • Goes straight to the emotions

  • Misses the mind

  • Lack of theology

The Christ-Centered Model

A Christo-centric model is where Christ is the center of all these factors. When you show that Christ is the center of the sermon the aim of the sermon becomes worship and not information giving or life improvement.

Applying this Model to David and Goliath

Chuck Swindoll talks about the faith it takes to pull down giants in your life. Most preachers take 1 Samuel 17 and other narrative passages and make the human characters the heroes of the story. They also preach these passages in a man-centered fashion. They will say things like, “If you have enough faith – like the faith of David – you can overcome the giants in your life (addictions, obstacles, temptations).”

A better way is to say that David points to a greater Ancestor like this:

‘David is a federal head. David represents his people. The victory of David is the victory of the people. The people get credit for David’s victory. Christ as the greater David dies for our sins in our place, you get the victory and the righteousness from His work.

Why are you having problems? Because you haven’t seen that Christ has the victory for you. David is pointing to an attribute of Jesus. Your problem is that you’re not living as if that attribute and victory is true.

If you ever tell a particular Bible story without fitting it into the main Bible story (the message of Christ) you’re losing the meaning. The sermon illustrates an example to live up to or a principle to obey rather than an exhortation to live by faith in Christ.

Scripture is about Christ not us. Christ is David in the story; David does not represent us trying to conquer giants. The greater David – the Lord Jesus – is the Hero and the Victor in whom our faith rests. The Bible is not a book about us.

Source: Personal Notes taken from a Tim Keller Doctor of Ministry lecture at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) in the early 2000’s.

 

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What Did Jesus’ Death On The Cross Accomplish?

prayer before a cross

Why Jesus Died on the Cross

By Mark Dricoll

It was the ultimate sacrifice.

While on a mission in Baghdad to find an area suitable for housing a generator to provide power to local residents, Army Spc. Ross McGinnis saved the lives of at least four of his fellow soldiers by smothering a grenade thrown into their Humvee with his body. This act of bravery cost him his life, but saved the lives of everyone else inside the Humvee.

Recollecting Spc. McGinnis’ courage, Army Staff Sgt. Newland said that Spc. McGinnis sacrificed his life, “Because we were his brothers. He loved us.” McGinnis was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his act of bravery on the battlefield.

Such acts of valor are uncommon. People typically don’t sacrifice their lives for others, even their loved ones.

While We Were Still Enemies

Though it’s uncommon for someone to sacrifice his or her life for a friend, as we see with the story of Spc. McGinnis, it does happen. But it would be nearly impossible to find examples of people sacrificing their life for an enemy.

Amazingly enough, Jesus made such a sacrifice. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote the following in Romans:

For while were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Regardless if we admit it or not, as sinners, we’re all enemies of God, deserving death and God’s wrath. Yet, Jesus died for us. He made the ultimate sacrifice with his life for you and me.

The Implications of the Cross

Why did Jesus die? Why did he sacrifice his life for his enemies? What did his death on the cross accomplish for you and me? 

To understand the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross, also known as the atonement, we must connect it to the doctrines of God’s character, God’s creation, human sin, and God’s responses to sin and sinners. To do this, we need to briefly examine eight truths that are absolutely essential to understanding why Jesus died on the cross and what his death means for us.

8 Truths about Jesus and the Cross

1.     God is holy and without any sin.

God is holy, without sin, and altogether good. As such, he can’t be in the presence of sin, and as a just God, must judge sin and sinners (Leviticus 11:44; Isaiah 6:3; 1 Peter 1:15–16).

2.     God made the world and us as good.

Not only is God good, but also everything he made was originally good, including human beings, who were made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:31; Ecclesiastes 7:29).

3.     We rebelled against God.

Though God made the world and us as good, our first father and mother rebelled against God, bringing sin into the world. This first sin was trying to become the God of our own lives by doing the one thing we were asked not to do. Ever since, we have sought to remove God from his throne and place ourselves on the throne instead (Genesis 3:1–7; Romans 3:10–12; 5:12).

4.     We are sinful.

Despite the fact that God made humans sinless, we’re now sinners both by nature and by choice due to the actions of our first parents. Anyone who says they’re not a sinner is in fact proud, and according to the church father Augustine, pride is the worst of sins and was the cause of Satan’s fall from heaven. Even non-Christians tend to agree that everyone is sinful when they declare often, “Nobody is perfect,” which agrees with Scripture (Psalm 53:3, 6; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8).

5.     Sin results in death.

God is the source of all life, and our sin results in our separation from him and death. Just as a piece of technology unplugged from its power source continues to exist but is functionally dead, so are we dead in our sin. The Bible says that because of sin we are physically alive but spiritually dead (Genesis 2:16–17; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13).

6.     Jesus is sinless.

Jesus is the only person who has or will ever live without sin (John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22).

7.     Jesus became our sin.

On the cross as our substitute, Jesus willfully became the worst of what we are. This does not mean that Jesus sinned. Rather, it means that he took our sins on as his responsibility and paid the price for them that we should have paid—death. Martin Luther is one of the few theologians who does not lessen the blow of this truth and calls it the “great exchange.”

Scripture declares that on the cross Jesus exchanged his perfection for our imperfection, his obedience for our disobedience, his intimacy with God the Father for our distance from God the Father, his blessing for our cursing, and his life for our death (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

8.     Jesus died for us.

The Bible teaches that in perfect justice, because Jesus was made to be our sin, he died for us. The little word “for” has big implications.

In theological terms, it means that Jesus’ death was substitutionary. His death was in our place, solely for our benefit, and without benefit for himself. He took the penalty for our sins so that we don’t have to suffer that penalty. The wrath of God that should’ve fallen on us and the death that our sins merit instead fell on Jesus.

This wasn’t something forced on him. Rather, he took it willingly (John 10:18; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 12:2). And Scripture repeatedly stresses this point, which theologians call “penal substitutionary atonement” (Isaiah 53:5, 12; Romans 4:25; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 2:2). The sinless Jesus literally stood in our place to suffer and die for us.

A Final Word

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me.

Jesus is our Savior who alone can take away the punishment we deserve because of our sin. Jesus is our Savior who died in our place, bearing our punishment and taking away our sin—past, present, and future.

Though we will have consequences for committing sin on earth, Jesus has completely, once and for all, bore the eternal penalty for our sins. This means that through Jesus there are no more penalties that need to be paid for sins we commit. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30; Hebrews 9:25–28).

Jesus has paid the penalty for your sins regardless of what you’ve done. There’s nothing more you have to do on top of what he has already done for you.

Stop working to try and earn God’s love, and start living out of thankfulness that God already loves you and paid the ultimate sacrifice to draw you near to him. Trust Jesus with your life.

SOURCE: pastormark.tv (March 27, 2012)

 

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Thinking Deeply About the Gospel From 1 Corinthians 15:1-19

TWO PEOPLE WALKING AT SUNSET ON THE BEACH

Eight Summarizing Words on the Gospel

By Dr. D.A. Carson

The Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-19)

Many have commented on the fact that the church in the western world is going through a time of remarkable fragmentation. This fragmentation extends to our understanding of the gospel. For some Christians, “the gospel” is a narrow set of teachings about Jesus and his death and resurrection which, rightly believed, tip people into the kingdom. After that, real discipleship and personal transformation begin, but none of that is integrally related to “the gospel.” This is a far cry from the dominant New Testament emphasis that understands “the gospel” to be the embracing category that holds much of the Bible together, and takes Christians from lostness and alienation from God all the way through conversion and discipleship to the consummation, to resurrection bodies, and to the new heaven and the new earth.

Other voices identify the gospel with the first and second commandments—the commandments to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. These commandments are so central that Jesus himself insists that all the prophets and the law hang on them (Matthew 22:34-40)—but most emphatically they are not the gospel.

A third option today is to treat the ethical teaching of Jesus found in the Gospels as the gospel— yet it is the ethical teaching of Jesus abstracted from the passion and resurrection narrative found in each Gospel. This approach depends on two disastrous mistakes. First, it overlooks the fact that in the first century, there was no “Gospel of Matthew,” “Gospel of Mark,” and so forth. Our four Gospels were called, respectively, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” “The Gospel According to Mark,” and so forth. In other words, there was only one gospel, the gospel of Jesus

Christ, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This one gospel, this message of news that was simultaneously threatening and promising, concerned the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the long-awaited King, and included something about his origins, the ministry of his forerunner, his brief ministry of teaching and miraculous transformation, climaxing in his death and resurrection. These elements are not independent pearls on a string that constitutes the life and times of Jesus the Messiah. Rather, they are elements tightly tied together. Accounts of Jesus’ teaching cannot be rightly understood unless we discern how they flow toward and point toward Jesus’ death and resurrection. All of this together is the one gospel of Jesus Christ, to which the canonical Gospels bear witness. To study the teaching of Jesus without simultaneously reflecting on his passion and resurrection is far worse than assessing the life and times of George Washington without reflecting on the American Revolution, or than evaluating Hitler’s Mein Kampf without thinking about what he did and how he died.

Second, we shall soon see that to focus on Jesus’ teaching while making the cross peripheral reduces the glorious good news to mere religion, the joy of forgiveness to mere ethical conformity, the highest motives for obedience to mere duty. The price is catastrophic.

Perhaps more common yet is the tendency to assume the gospel, whatever that is, while devoting creative energy and passion to other issues—marriage, happiness, prosperity, evangelism, the poor, wrestling with Islam, wrestling with the pressures of secularization, bioethics, dangers on the left, dangers on the right—the list is endless. This overlooks the fact that our hearers inevitably are drawn toward that about which we are most passionate. Every teacher knows that.

My students are unlikely to learn all that I teach them; they are most likely to learn that about which I am most excited. If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus zeal on the periphery. It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins; what is urgently needed is to be prophetic from the center. What is to be feared, in the famous words of W. B. Yeats in “The Second Coming,” is that “the centre does not hold.” Moreover, if in fact we focus on the gospel, we shall soon see that this gospel, rightly understood, directs us how to think about, and what to do about, a substantial array of other issues. These issues, if they are analyzed on their own, as important as they are, remain relatively peripheral; ironically, if the gospel itself is deeply pondered and remains at the center of our thinking and living, it powerfully addresses and wrestles with all these other issues.

There are many biblical texts and themes we could usefully explore to think more clearly about the gospel. But for our purposes we shall focus primarily on 1 Cor 15:1-19.

I shall try to bring things to clarity by focusing on eight summarizing words (six of which were first suggested by John Stott), five clarifying sentences, and one evocative summary.

  1. Eight summarizing words:

What Paul is going to talk about in these verses, he says, is “the gospel”: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you” (v. 1). “By this gospel you were saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you” (v. 2). Indeed, what Paul had passed on to them was “of first importance”—a rhetorically powerful way of telling his readers to pay attention, for what he is going to say about the gospel lies at its very center. These prefatory remarks completed, the first word that appears in Paul’s summary is “Christ”: “I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins” and so forth. That brings me to the first of my eight summarizing words.

  1. The gospel is Christological; it is Christ-centered. The gospel is not a bland theism, still less an impersonal pantheism. The gospel is irrevocably Christ-centered. The point is powerfully articulated in every major New Testament book and corpus. In Matthew’s Gospel, for instance, Christ himself is Emmanuel, God with us; he is the long-promised Davidic king who will bring in the kingdom of God. By his death and resurrection he becomes the mediatorial monarch who insists that all authority in heaven and earth is his alone. In John, Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father except through him, for it is the Father’s solemn intent that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. In the sermons reported in Acts, there is no name but Jesus given under heaven by which we must be saved. In Romans and Galatians and Ephesians, Jesus is the last Adam, the one to whom the law and the prophets bear witness, the one who by God’s own design propitiates God’s wrath and reconciles Jews and Gentiles to his heavenly Father and thus also to each other. In the great vision of Revelation 4-5, the Son alone, emerging from the very throne of God Almighty, is simultaneously the lion and the lamb, and he alone is qualified to open the seals of the scroll in the right hand of God, and thus bring about all of God’s matchless purposes for judgment and blessing. So also here: the gospel is Christological. John Stott is right: “The gospel is not preached if Christ is not preached.”

Yet this Christological stance does not focus exclusively on Christ’s person; it embraces with equal fervor his death and resurrection. As a matter of first importance, Paul writes, “Christ died for our sins” (15:3). Earlier in this letter, Paul does not tell his readers, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ”; rather, he says, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Moreover, Paul here ties Jesus’ death to his resurrection, as the rest of the chapter makes clear. This is the gospel of Christ crucified and risen again.

In other words, it is not enough to make a splash of Christmas, and downplay Good Friday and Easter. When we insist that as a matter of first importance, the gospel is Christological, we are not thinking of Christ as a cypher, or simply as the God-man who comes along and helps us like a nice insurance agent: “Jesus is a nice God-man, he’s a very, very nice God-man, and when you break down, he comes along and fixes you.” The gospel is Christological in a more robust sense: Jesus is the promised Messiah who died and rose again.

(2) The gospel is theological. This is a short-hand way of affirming two things. First, as 1 Corinthians 15 repeatedly affirms, God raised Christ Jesus from the dead (e.g. 5:15). More broadly, New Testament documents insist that God sent the Son into the world, and the Son obediently went to the cross because this was his Father’s will. It makes no sense to pit the mission of the Son against the sovereign purpose of the Father. If the gospel is centrally Christological, it is no less centrally theological.

Second, the text does not simply say that Christ died and rose again; rather, it asserts that “Christ died for our sins” and rose again. The cross and resurrection are not nakedly historical events; they are historical events with the deepest theological weight. We can glimpse the power of this claim only if we remind ourselves how sin and death are related to God in Scripture. In recent years it has become popular to sketch the Bible’s story-line something like this: Ever since the fall, God has been active to reverse the effects of sin. He takes action to limit sin’s damage; he calls out a new nation, the Israelites, to mediate his teaching and his grace to others; he promises that one day he will send the promised Davidic king to overthrow sin and death and all their wretched effects. This is what Jesus does: he conquers death, inaugurates the kingdom of righteousness, and calls his followers to live out that righteousness now in prospect of the consummation still to come.

Much of this description of the Bible’s story-line, of course, is true. Yet it is so painfully reductionistic that it introduces a major distortion. It collapses human rebellion, God’s wrath, and assorted disasters into one construct, namely, the degradation of human life, while depersonalizing the wrath of God. It thus fails to wrestle with the fact that from the beginning, sin is an offense against God. God himself pronounces the sentence of death (Gen 2-3). This is scarcely surprising, since God is the source of all life, so if his image bearers spit in his face and insist on going their own way and becoming their own gods, they cut themselves off from their Maker, from the One who gives life. What is there, then, but death? Moreover, when we sin in any way, God himself is invariably the most offended party. That is made clear from David’s experience.

After he has sinned by seducing Bathsheba and arranging the execution of her husband, David is confronted by the prophet Nathan. In deep contrition, he pens Psalm 51. There he addresses God and says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (51:4). At one level, of course, that is a load of codswollop. After all, David has certainly sinned against Bathsheba. He has sinned horribly against her husband. He has sinned against the military high command by corrupting it, against his own family, against the baby in Bathsheba’s womb, against the nation as a whole, which expects him to act with integrity. In fact, it is difficult to think of anyone against whom David did not sin. Yet here he says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” In the most profound sense, that is exactly right. What makes sin sin, what makes it so vile, what gives it its horrific transcendental vileness, is that it is sin against God. In all our sinning, God is invariably the most offended party. That is why we must have his forgiveness, or we have nothing. The God the Bible portrays as resolved to intervene and save is also the God portrayed as full of wrath because of our sustained idolatry. As much as he intervenes to save us, he stands over against us as Judge, an offended Judge with fearsome jealousy.

Nor is this a matter of Old Testament theology alone. When Jesus announced the imminence of the dawning of the kingdom, like John the Baptist he cried, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt 4:17; cf. Mark 1:15). Repentance is necessary, because the coming of the King promises judgment as well as blessing. The Sermon on the Mount, which encourages Jesus’ disciples to turn the other cheek, repeatedly warns them to flee the condemnation to the gehenna of fire. The sermon warns the hearers not to follow the broad road that leads to destruction, and pictures Jesus pronouncing final judgment with the words, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (7:23). The parables are replete with warnings of final judgment; a significant percentage of them demonstrate the essential divisiveness of the dawning of the kingdom.

Images of hell—outer darkness, furnace of fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth, undying worms, eternal fire—are too ghastly to contemplate long, but we must not avoid the fact that Jesus himself uses all of them. After Jesus’ resurrection, when Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, he aims to convince his hearers that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that his death and resurrection are the fulfillment of Scripture, and that God “has made this Jesus, whom you crucified [he tells them], both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). That is every bit as much a threat as it is a promise: the hearers are “cut to the heart” and cry, “What shall we do?” (2:37). That is what elicits Peter’s “Repent and believe” (3:38).

When Peter preaches to Cornelius and his household, the climax of his moving address is that in fulfillment of Scripture God appointed Jesus “as judge of the living and the dead”—and thus not of Jews only. Those who believe in him receive “forgiveness of sins through his name”: transparently, that is what is essential if we are to face the judge and emerge unscathed. When he preaches to the Athenian pagan intellectuals, Paul, as we all know, fills in some of the great truths that constitute the matrix in which alone Jesus makes sense: monotheism, creation, who human beings are, God’s aseity and providential sovereignty, the wretchedness and danger of idolatry. Before he is interrupted, however, Paul gets to the place in his argument where he insists that God has set a day “when he will judge the world with justice”—and his appointed judge is Jesus, whose authoritative status is established by his resurrection from the dead. When Felix invites the apostle to speak “about faith in Christ Jesus” (Acts 24:24), Paul, we are told, discourses “on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (24:15): apparently such themes are an irreducible part of faithful gospel preaching. Small wonder, then, that Felix was terrified (24:25).

How often when we preach the gospel are people terrified? The Letter to the Romans, which many rightly take to be, at the very least, a core summary of the apostle’s understanding of the gospel, finds Paul insisting that judgment takes place “on the day when God will judge everyone’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Rom 2:16). Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul reminds us that Jesus “rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess 1:10). This Jesus will be “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess 1:7-10). We await “a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ”—and what this Savior saves us from (the context of Philippians 3:19-20 shows) is the destiny of destruction. “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph 2:3), for we gratified “the cravings of our sinful nature . . . following its desires and thoughts” (2:3)—but now we have been saved by grace through faith, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:8-10). This grace thus saves us both from sins and from their otherwise inevitable result, the wrath to come. Jesus himself is our peace (Eph 2; Acts 10:36). “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom 1:18). But God “presented Christ as a propitiation in his blood” (3:25), and now “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:1-2).

Time and space fail to reflect on how the sacrifice of Christ in the Letter to the Hebrews is what alone enables us to escape the terror of those who fall into the hands of the living God, who is a consuming fire, or on how the Apocalypse presents the Lamb as the slaughtered sacrifice, even while warning of the danger of falling under the wrath of the Lamb.

This nexus of themes—God, sin, wrath, death, judgment—is what makes the simple words of 1 Corinthians 15:3 so profoundly theological: as a matter of first importance, “Christ died for our sins.” Parallel texts instantly leap to mind: “[Christ] was delivered over to death for our sins, and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25). “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). The Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins, to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Or, as Paul puts it here in 1 Corinthians 15:2, “By this gospel you are saved.” To be saved from our sins is to be saved not only from their chaining power but from their consequences— and the consequences are profoundly bound up with God’s solemn sentence, with God’s holy wrath. Once you see this, you cannot fail to see that whatever else the cross achieves, it must rightly set aside God’s sentence, it must rightly satisfy God’s wrath, or it achieves nothing. The gospel is theological.

(3) The gospel is biblical. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, . . . he was buried, . . . he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (15:3-4). What biblical texts Paul has in mind, he does not say. He may have had the kind of thing Jesus himself taught, after his resurrection, when “he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself ” (Luke 24:27; cf. vv. 44-46). Perhaps he was thinking of texts such as Psalm 16 and Isaiah 53, used by Peter on the day of Pentecost, or Ps 2, used by Paul himself in Pisidian Antioch, whose interpretation depends on a deeply evocative but quite traceable typology. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians Paul alludes to Christ as “our Passover . . . sacrificed for us” (5:5)— so perhaps he could have replicated the reasoning of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who elegantly traces out some of the ways in which the Old Testament Scriptures, laid out in a salvation-historical grid, announce the obsolescence of the old covenant and the dawning of the new covenant, complete with a better tabernacle, a better priesthood, and a better sacrifice. What is in any case very striking is that the apostle grounds the gospel, the matters of first importance, in the Scriptures—and of course he has what we call the Old Testament in mind—and then in the witness of the apostles—and thus what we call the New Testament. The gospel is biblical.

(4) The gospel is thus apostolic. Of course, Paul cheerfully insists that there were more than five hundred eyewitnesses to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless he repeatedly draws attention to the apostles: Jesus “appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (15:5); “he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me” (15:8), “the least of the apostles” (15:9). Listen carefully to the sequence of pronouns in 15:11: “Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed” (15:11). The sequence of pronouns, I, they, we, you, becomes a powerful way of connecting the witness and teaching of the apostles with the faith of all subsequent Christians. The gospel is apostolic.

(5) The gospel is historical. Here four things must be said.

First, 1 Corinthians 15 specifies both Jesus’ burial and his resurrection. The burial testifies to Jesus’ death, since (normally!) we bury only those who have died; the appearances testify to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ death and his resurrection are tied together in history: the one who was crucified is the one who was resurrected; the body that came out of the tomb, as Thomas wanted to have demonstrated, had the wounds of the body that went into the tomb. This resurrection took place on the third day: it is in datable sequence from the death. The cross and the resurrection are irrefragably tied together. Any approach, theological or evangelistic, that attempts to pit Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection against each other, is not much more than silly. Perhaps one or the other might have to be especially emphasized to combat some particular denial or need, but to sacrifice one on the altar of the other is to step away from the manner in which both the cross and resurrection are historically tied together.

Second, the manner by which we have access to the historical events of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, is exactly the same as that by which we have access to almost any historical event: through the witness and remains of those who were there, by means of the records they left behind. That is why Paul enumerates the witnesses, mentions that many of them are still alive at his time of writing and therefore could still be checked out, and recognizes the importance of their reliability. In God’s mercy, this Bible is, among many other things, a written record, an inscripturation, of those first witnesses.

Third, we must see that, unlike other religions, the central Christian claims are irreducibly historical. If somehow—I have no idea how—you could prove that Gautama the Buddha never lived, would you destroy the credibility of Buddhism? No, of course not. The plausibility and credibility of Buddhism depends on the internal coherence and attractiveness of Buddhism as a system with all its variations. It depends not a whit on any historical claim. If somehow—I have no idea how—you could prove that the great Hindu god Krishna never existed, would you destroy Hinduism? No, of course not. If the ancient Greeks had thousands of gods, Hindus have millions, and the complex vision of Hinduism in which all reality is enmeshed in one truth with its infinite variations and its karmic system of retribution and cyclic advance and falling away depends in no way on the existence of any one of them. If Krishna were to disappear from the Hindu pantheon, you could always go down the street to a Shiva temple instead. Suppose, then, that you approach your friendly neighborhood mullah and seek to explore how tightly Islam is tied to historical claims. You will discover that history is important in Islam, but not the same way in which it is important in biblically faithful Christianity. You might ask the mullah, “Could Allah, had he chosen to do so, given his final revelation to someone other than Muhammed?” Perhaps the mullah will initially misunderstand your question. He might reply, “We believe that God gave great revelation to his prophet Abraham, and great revelation to his prophet Moses, and great revelation to his prophet Jesus. But we believe Allah gave his greatest and final revelation to Muhammed.” You might reply, “With respect, sir, I understand that that is what Islam teaches; and of course you will understand that I as a Christian do not see things quite that way. But that is not my question. I am not asking if Muslims believe that God gave his greatest and final revelation to Muhammed: of course you believe that. I am asking, rather, a hypothetical question: Could God have given his greatest and final revelation to someone other than Muhammed, had he chosen to do so?” Your thoughtful Mullah will doubtless say, “Of course! Allah, blessed be he, is sovereign. He can do whatever he wishes. The revelation is not Muhammed! Revelation is entirely in the gift of Allah. Allah could have given it to anyone to whom he chose to give it. But we believe that in fact Allah gave it to Muhammed.”

In other words, although it is important to Muslims to believe and teach that the ultimate revelation of Allah was given, in history, to Muhammed, and Islam’s historical claims regarding Muhammed are part and parcel of its apologetic to justify Muhammed’s crucial place as the final prophet, there is nothing intrinsic to Muhammed himself that is bound up with the theological vision of Islam. Otherwise put, a Muslim must confess that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammed is his prophet, but Muhammed’s historical existence does not, in itself, determine the Muslim’s understanding of God.

But suppose you were to ask a similar question of an informed Christian pastor: “Do you believe that the God of the Bible might have given his final revelation to someone other than Jesus of Nazareth?” The question is not even coherent—for Jesus is the revelation, the revelation that entered history in the incarnation. As John puts it in his first Letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it” (1 John 1:1-2). This is an historical revelation. Moreover, there are specific historical events in Jesus’ life that are essential to the most elementary grasp of Christianity—and here, pride of place goes to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

A little over two years ago, a reporter put a crucial question to the then Anglican Archbishop of Perth, at the time the Anglican Primate of Australia. The reporter asked, “If we discovered the tomb of Jesus, and could somehow prove that the remains in the tomb were Jesus’ remains, what would that do to your faith?” The Archbishop replied that it wouldn’t do anything to his faith: Jesus Christ has risen in his heart. The apostle Paul understands the issues with much more straightforward clarity: if Christ has not risen, your faith is futile (1 Cor 15:17). In other words, part of the validation of faith is the truthfulness of faith’s object—in this case, Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus has not risen, they can believe it ‘till the cows come home, but it is still a futile belief that makes them look silly: they “are to be pitied more than all men” (15:17). There is no point getting angry with the former Archbishop of Perth: he and his opinions on this matter are painfully pitiful.

Many in our culture believe that the word “faith” is either a synonym for “religion” (e.g. “there are many faiths” means “there are many religions“), or it refers to a personal, subjective, religious choice. It has nothing to do with truth. But in this passage, Paul insists that if Christ is not risen, then faith that believes Christ is risen is merely futile. Part of the validation of genuine faith is the reliability, the truthfulness, of faith’s object. If you believe something is true when in reality it is not true, your faith is not commendable; rather, it is futile, valueless, worthless, and you yourself are to be pitied. Part of the validation of faith is the truthfulness of faith’s object— and in this case, the object is an historical event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible never asks us to believe what is not true. By the same token, one of the principal ways the Bible has of increasing and strengthening faith is by articulating and defending the truth.

There is another way of clarifying the relationship between a biblically faithful Christianity and history. Not too long ago, the members of the New Testament Department here at Trinity were interviewing a possible addition to our Department. The candidate was a fine man with years of fruitful pastoral ministry behind him, and an excellent theological education. A problem came to light, however, when we inquired how he would respond to students raising questions about a variety of perceived historical difficulties in the Gospels. In every case, he thought the way forward was to talk about the theological themes of Matthew, or the biblical theology of Mark, or the literary structure of Luke, and so forth. He simply set aside the historical questions; he ignored them, preferring to talk exclusively in terms of literary and theological themes. In due course we told him that he did not have a ghost of a chance of joining our Department as long as he held to such an approach. For although it is entirely right to work out the theology of Matthew’s Gospel, that must not be at the expense of refusing to talk about the historical person of Jesus Christ. The candidate’s procedure gives the impression we are saved by theological ideas about Christ; it is an intellectualist approach, almost a gnostic approach, to salvation. But we are not saved by theological ideas about Christ; we are saved by Christ himself. The Christ who saves us is certainly characterized by the theological realities embraced by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but this Christ is extra-textual; he is the historical God-man to whom the text bears witness.

Fourth, we must face the fact that in contemporary discussion the word “historical” is sometimes invested with a number of slippery assumptions. For some who are heavily invested in philosophical naturalism, the word “historical” can be applied only to those events that have causes and effects entirely located in the ordinary or “natural” or time-based stream of sequence of events. If that is the definition of “historical,” then Jesus’ resurrection was not historical, for such a definition excludes the miraculous, the spectacular intervention of the power of God. But it is far better to think that “historical” rightly refers to events that take place within the continuum of space and time, regardless of whether God has brought about those events by ordinary causes, or by a supernatural explosion of power. We insist that in this sense, the resurrection is historical: it takes place in history, even if it was caused by God’s spectacular power when he raised the man Christ Jesus from the dead, giving him a resurrection body that had genuine continuity with the body that went into the tomb. This resurrection body could be seen, touched, handled; it could eat ordinary food. Nevertheless, it is a body that could suddenly appear in a locked room, a body that Paul finds hard to describe, ultimately calling it a spiritual body or a heavenly body (1 Cor 15:35-44). And that body was raised from the tomb by the spectacular, supernatural, power of God—operating in history. In short, the gospel is historical.

(6) The gospel is personal. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not merely historical events; the gospel is not merely theological in the sense that it organizes a lot of theological precepts. It sets out the way of individual salvation, of personal salvation. “Now, brothers,” Paul writes at the beginning of this chapters, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved” (1 Cor 15:1-2). An historical gospel that is not personal and powerful is merely antiquarian; a theological gospel that is not received by faith and found to be transforming is merely abstract. In reality, the gospel is personal.

(7) The gospel is universal. If we step farther into 1 Corinthians 15, we find Paul demonstrating that Christ is the new Adam (vv. 22, 47-50). In this context, Paul does not develop the move from Jew to Gentile, or from the Israelites as a national locus of the people of God to the church as in international community of the elect. Nevertheless, Christ as the new Adam alludes to a comprehensive vision. The new humanity in him draws in people from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. The gospel is universal in this sense. It is not universal in the sense that it transforms and saves everyone without exception, for in reality, those whose existence is connected exclusively to the old Adam are not included. Yet this gospel is gloriously universal in its comprehensive sweep. There is not a trace of racism here. The gospel is universal.

(8) The gospel is eschatological. This could be teased out in many ways, for the gospel is eschatological in more ways than one. For instance, some of the blessings Christians receive today are essentially eschatological blessings, blessings belonging to the end, even if they have been brought back into time and are already ours. Already God declares his blood-bought, Spirit-regenerated people to be justified: the final declarative sentence from the end of the age has already been pronounced on Christ’s people, because of what Jesus Christ has done. We are already justified—and so the gospel is in that sense eschatological. Yet there is another sense in which this gospel is eschatological. In the chapter before us, Paul focuses on the final transformation: “I declare to you, brothers,” he says in vv. 50 and following, “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.” It is not enough to focus narrowly on the blessings Christians enjoy in Christ in this age: the gospel is eschatological.

So what Paul preaches, as a matter of first importance, is that the gospel is Christological, theological, biblical, apostolic, historical, personal, universal, and eschatological.

Now the passage in front of us includes several wonderful truths that further unpack this gospel before our eyes. I can summarize them in five clarifying sentences.

(1) This gospel is normally disseminated in proclamation. This gospel, Paul says, “I preached to you” (1 Cor 15:1), and then adds that it is “the word I preached to you” (15:2). This way of describing the dissemination of the gospel is typical of the New Testament. The gospel that was preached was what the Corinthians believed (15:11). Look up every instance of the word “gospel” and discover how often, how overwhelmingly often, this news of Jesus Christ is made known through proclamation, through preaching. Earlier in this same letter Paul insists that in God’s unfathomable wisdom “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1:21). The content was “what was preached”; the mode of delivery was “what was preached.” There are plenty of texts that talk about the importance of being salt and light, of course, or of doing good to all people, especially those of the household of God, or of seeking the good of the city. Yet when dissemination of the gospel is in view, overwhelmingly the Bible specifies proclamation. The good news must be announced, heralded, explained; God himself visits and revisits human beings through his word. This gospel is normally disseminated in proclamation.

(2) This gospel is fruitfully received in authentic, persevering faith. “[T]his is what we preach,” Paul writes, “and this is what you believed” (1 Cor 15:11). Toward the beginning of the chapter, Paul tells the Corinthians, “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (15:2). In other words, their faith in the word Paul preached, in the gospel, must be of the persevering type. Many other passages carry the same emphasis. For instance, Paul tells the Colossians, “[God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col 1:22-23). This gospel is fruitfully received in authentic, persevering faith.

(3) This gospel is properly disclosed in personal self-humiliation. When the gospel is properly understood and received in persevering faith, people properly respond the way the apostle does. Yes, the risen Christ appeared last of all to him (15:8). Yet far from becoming a source of pride, this final resurrection appearance evokes in Paul a sense of his own unworthiness: “For I am the least of the apostles,” he writes, “and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (15:9-10). How could it be otherwise? Jesus had purchased Paul’s redemption at the cost of his own blood, he had graciously forgiven him of his sins, including the sin of persecuting the church of God, he had confronted the apostle on the Damascus Road and revealed himself to him at the very moment Paul was expanding his efforts to damage Christ’s people! Even if in the wake of his conversion, Paul confesses he has worked harder than the other apostles, he insists that this can only be true because of the grace of God that was with him (15:10). Humility, gratitude, dependence on Christ, contrition—these are the characteristic attitudes of the truly converted, the matrix out of which Christians experience joy and love. When the gospel truly does its work, “proud Christian” is an unthinkable oxymoron. This gospel is properly disclosed in personal self-humiliation.

(4) This gospel is rightly asserted to be the central confession of the whole church. At numerous points in 1 Corinthians Paul reminds his readers that the Corinthian church is not the only church–or, better put, that there are many other churches with common beliefs and practices, such that at some point the independence of the Corinthians, far from being a virtue, is merely evidence that they are out of step. In 4:17, Paul tells them that Timothy will remind the Corinthians of Paul’s way of life, “which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” When he is dealing with marriage and divorce, Paul stipulates, “This is the rule I lay down in every church” (7:17). After laying down what believers are to think about headship and relationships between men and women, Paul closes his discussion with the words, “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God” (11:16).

However we understand the restriction found in 14:34, Paul introduces it with the words, “As in all the congregations of the saints” (14:33). There is no explicit formula of this sort in 1 Corinthians 15. Nevertheless, Paul repeatedly alludes to what he preaches everywhere, not just in Corinth. Passive expressions like “if it is preached” (15:11) give the impression that this is the common content, not something that was reserved for Corinth—as also Paul’s reference to his service in Ephesus for the sake of this same gospel (15:32), and his many earlier references to his common practices in preaching the gospel (esp. chaps. 1-2).

Of course, what “the whole church” or “all the churches” are doing is not necessarily right: just ask Athansius or Luther. One must test everything by Scripture. Moreover, one must grimly admit that there is a kind of traditionalism that loses its way, that preserves form while sacrificing authenticity and power. In Corinth, however, that does not seem to have been the problem. Corinth speaks to the lust for endless innovation that casually cuts a swath away from the practices and beliefs of other churches, while quietly side-stepping the careful instruction of the apostle. Paul insists that the gospel is rightly asserted to be the central confession of the whole church. Always be suspicious of churches that proudly flaunt how different they are from what has gone before.

(5) The gospel is boldly advancing under the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the king. This side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, all of God’s sovereignty is mediated exclusively through King Jesus. That is amply taught elsewhere in the New Testament, of course. Matthew concludes with Jesus’ claim, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:20). Philippians rejoices that “the name that is above every name” has been given to him (Phil 2:9-11). So also—and dramatically—here: Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (15:25). That presupposes the reign is still contested, and still advances. This is of a piece with Jesus’ claim, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). But one day, the final enemy, death itself, will die, and Jesus’ mediatorial kingship will end. God will be all in all (15:28).

It is in the light of this gospel—all that the death and resurrection of Jesus have achieved, all that the advancing kingdom of King Jesus is accomplishing, all that we will inherit in resurrection existence on the last day—that Paul writes to these Corinthian believers, and to us, and says, “Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (15:58). The gospel is boldly advancing under the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the king.

It is time to take stock. One of the striking results of this summary of the gospel—eight defining words and five clarifying sentences, all emerging from one New Testament chapter—is how cognitive the gospel is. Here is what is to be understood, believed, obeyed; here is what is promised, taught, explained. All of this must be said, loudly and repeatedly, in a generation that feels slightly embarrassed when it has to deal with the cognitive and the propositional.

Yet something else must also be said. This chapter comes at the end of a book that repeatedly shows how the gospel rightly works out in the massive transformation of attitudes, morals, relationships, and cultural interactions. As everyone knows, Calvin insists that justification is by faith alone, but genuine faith is never alone; we might add that the gospel focuses on a message of what God has done and is doing, and must be cast in cognitive truths to be believed and obeyed, but this gospel never properly remains exclusively cognitive.

Thus in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, the gospel, the word of the cross, is not only God’s wisdom which the world judges to be folly, but it is God’s power which the world judges to be weakness. The first four chapters find Paul pained at the divisions in the Corinthian church, different factions associating themselves exclusively with one hero or another—Peter, Apollos, Paul, and, probably the most sanctimonious of the lot, the “I follow Christ” party. What the apostle works out is how this is a betrayal of the gospel, a misunderstanding of the nature of Christian leadership, a tragic and bitter diminution of the exclusive place of Christ, the crucified Christ who is the focus of the gospel. Chapter four shows in a spectacular way that there is no place for triumphalism in the church of the blood-bought, in the church led by apostles who eat everyone’s dirt at the end of the procession. In chapters 5 and 6, the gospel of Christ the Passover lamb prescribes that believers must, in line with Passover, get rid of all “yeast”—and this works out in terms of church discipline were there is grievous sexual sin. Where the gospel triumphs, relationships are transformed, with the result that lawsuits bringing brothers into conflict with each other before pagan courts becomes almost unthinkable, and casual sex is recognized as a massive denial of Christ’s lordship. In chap. 7, complex questions about divorce and remarriage are worked out in the context of the priorities of the gospel and the transformed vision brought about by the dawning of the eschatological age and the anticipation of the end.

Chapters 8-10 wrestle with how believers must interact with the broader pagan culture over the matter of food offered to idols, with the central example of the apostle Paul himself demonstrating in dramatic fashion what cheerful and voluntary self-restraint for the sake of the advance of the gospel actually looks like—and even how such a stance is tied to a proper understanding of the relationship between the new covenant and the old. Relationships between men and women are tied, in 1 Cor 11:2-16, not only to relationships in the Godhead, but also to what it means to live “in the Lord”—and thus in the gospel. The blistering condemnation of Corinthian practices at the Lord’s Supper (“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good,” 11:17) is tied not only to the barbarous insensitivity some Christians were displaying toward other Christians, but also to the massive failure to take the cross seriously and use this Christ-given rite as an occasion for self-examination and repentance. The ways in which the charismata or pneumatika of 1 Cor 12-14 are to be exercised is finally predicated on the fact that all believers confess that Jesus is Lord, all believers have been baptized in one Spirit into one body, and above all that the most excellent “way” mandated of all believers without exception is the way of love. Love is the most important member of the Pauline triad of faith, hope, and love—this triplet of virtues that are deeply intrinsic to the working out of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A Christianity where believers are not patient and kind, a Christianity where believers characteristically envy, are proud and boastful, rude, easily angered, and keep a record of wrongs, is no Christianity at all. What does this say, in concrete terms, about the communion of saints, the urgent need to create a Christian community that is profoundly counter-cultural? What will this say about inter-generational relationships? About race? About how we treat one another in the local church? About how we think of brothers and sisters in highly diverse corners of our heavenly Father’s world?

Just as Paul found it necessary to hammer away at the outworking of the gospel in every domain of the lives of the Corinthians, so we must do the same today. Recently at Trinity, a very wise worker on an Ivy League campus told us what, in her experience, drives most of the young women whom she disciples every week. She mentioned three things. First, from parents, never get less than an A. Of course, this is an Ivy League campus! Still, even on an Ivy League campus, grades are distributed on a bell curve, so this expectation introduces competition among the students. Second, partly from parents, partly from the ambient culture, be yourself, enjoy yourself, live a rich and full life, and include in this some altruism such as helping victims of Katrina. Third, from peers, from Madison avenue, from the media, be hot—and this, too, is competitive, and affects dress, relationships, what you look for in the opposite sex, what you want them to look for in you. These demands drum away incessantly. There is no margin, no room for letting up; there is only room for failure. The result is that about 80% of women during their undergraduate years will suffer eating disorders; close to the same percentage will at some point be clinically depressed. The world keeps telling them that they can do anything, and soon this is transmuted into the demand that they must do everything, or be a failure both in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. Even when they become Christians, it is not long before they feel the pressure to become the best Christians, as measured by attendance at Bible studies, leading prayer meetings, faithfully recording their daily devotions.

But where is the human flourishing that springs from the gospel of grace, God’s image-bearers happily justified before God on the ground of what Christ has done, powerfully regenerated so that they respond in faith, obedience, joy, and gratitude? The conventions and expectations of the world are pervasive and enslaving. The gospel must be worked out for these women, and demonstrated in the life of the church, so that it issues in liberation from the wretched chains of idolatry too subtle to be named and too intoxicating to escape, apart from the powerful word of the cross.

Of course, I have picked on one small demographic. It does not take much to think through how the gospel must also transform the business practices and priorities of Christians in commerce, the priorities of young men steeped in indecisive but relentless narcissism, the lonely anguish and often the guilty pleasures of single folk who pursue pleasure but who cannot find happiness, the tired despair of those living on the margins, and much more. And this must be done, not by attempting to abstract social principles from the gospel, still less by endless focus on the periphery in a vain effort to sound prophetic, but precisely by preaching and teaching and living out in our churches the glorious gospel of our blessed Redeemer.

“Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (15:58).

***********

Donald A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois where he has served since 1978.

Carson received the Bachelor of Science in chemistry from McGill University, the Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto, and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. Carson is an active guest lecturer in academic and church settings around the world. He is a council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and The Gospel Coalition. Among his many books are Christ and Culture Revisited, Commentary on the New Testament Us of the Old Testament and The Gospel of John: An Introduction and Commentary.

 Carson and his wife, Joy, reside in Libertyville, Illinois. They have two children. In his spare time, Carson enjoys reading, hiking, and woodworking.

Source: http://www.Christianity.com

 

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