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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 and Ed Clowney on Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World – Part 1

PREACHING THE GOSPEL IN A POST-MODERN WORLD – SESSION ONE NOTES

Tim Keller preaching image

DR’S: EDMUND P. CLOWNEY AND TIMOTHY J. KELLER

CLASS NOTES FROM REFORMED THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY – DOCTOR OF MINISTRY CLASS

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION TO THE CHRIST-CENTERED MODEL

(A) THE GOAL OF THE SERMON

In this course we will be offering a model of preaching that can be called by several names and titles—all of which we will be using as synonyms. It is Christo-centric preaching because it calls us to “preach Christ” and his salvation from every passage in the Bible. It is Gospel-centered preaching because it never moves ‘beyond’ the finished work of Christ to supposedly more ‘advanced’ Biblical principles. It expounds the gospel as the central way to address any issue for both Christians and non-Christians. It is Redemptive-Historical preaching because it is based on a way of reading the Bible that stresses the organic unity between unfolding historical stages of God’s redemption in Christ.

Let’s put this in more ‘down to earth’ terms. Kent Hughes tells of an African-American church where there is a very elderly, female member who has a particular concern that the sermons exalt Christ and do not degenerate into mere lecturing or moralizing. If she feels that the preacher is failing in his duty, she begins to call out, “Get him up! Get…him…up!” If you want to learn Christ-centered preaching, you could simply ask her to transfer into your church. But if that is impractical, you could take the rest of this course. So there is just one goal for a sermon—lift up Christ and his salvation.

(B) THREE ‘PERSPECTIVES’ ON THIS GOAL

1. It is helpful to look at this one goal in three perspectives.

Paul on the one single purpose: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1ff.).

Paul on the three perspectives: Him we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28). 

Paul discerns three things that he is doing as he preaches Christ. These are not so much three different tasks as much as three perspectives or aspects of that one basic biblical goal of lifting up Christ. If you accomplished any one of the three things thoroughly, you would automatically complete the other two as well. However, since we never can be completely effective, it is wiser to consciously take up each of the three perspectives individually as you write and evaluate your message.

What are these three things?

First, biblical accuracy and Christo-centricity are the same to Paul—it is “Him” we must proclaim when we preach the Bible.

Secondly, the preaching and teaching is done with “wisdom,” which means “practical life-relatedness”. It must be aimed artfully at the hearts of people so as to produce real life changes.

Thirdly, we see that preaching was no detached, clinical exercise. There was a churning spiritual power which gave Paul an intense internal yearning as he preached—“struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Those who heard Paul must have been impressed that the truth had already exploded with God’s transforming power inside Paul’s soul.

(Personal notes – Keller’s series on the attributes of God – from a systematic approach, i.e. – omnipotence, benevolence, omnipotence, and the like, to God as Father, Friend, Lover, King; or a series related to your feelings/emotions from the Psalms focusing on the different emotions like discouragement, depression, sadness, loneliness, joy, etc.)

In our fear of subjectivism, Reformed folk discuss preaching and teaching almost exclusively in terms of the first perspective. A sermon is to be a “success” as long as it is a true and accurate exposition of Holy Scripture. But accuracy is a means, not the goal of preaching. The goal is “changed lives”—“everyone perfect in Christ”.

2. The concept of “perspectives”

This method is based on John Frame’s tri-perspectival approach to knowledge. Consider the Trinity. God can be viewed from three perspectives. The ‘Son” contains the father and the Spirit. If we explore who the Son is deep enough, we will learn about the father and the Spirit. Yet the Son points us to things about God only he can show us. Or you can learn about the whole Godhead through the ‘door’ of the Father, and eventually come to learn about the Son and the Spirit. Of you can ‘come at’ God from the ‘door’ of the Spirit. In short, God himself requires us to look at him in ‘multiple perspectives’ in order to truly understand him.

Frame believes that all knowledge is ‘Trinitarian’ or perspectival. He speaks of the “normative”, the “situational”, and the “existential” perspectives. “Human knowledge can by understood in three ways: as knowledge of God’s norm [law], as knowledge of our situation, and as knowledge of ourselves. None can be adequately achieved without the others. Each includes the others. Each, therefore, is a ‘perspective’ on the whole of human knowledge” (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, P&R, 1987, p. 75).

Our knowledge becomes distorted if we limit our understanding by leaving out any perspective. For example, we do not become more “biblical” when in seeking to understand a text we forget the situational and existential perspectives. Frame argues that we do not really understand the meaning of a text of Scripture unless we can use it. We must be able to apply the text to our world and ourselves or we do not really “know” the truth. Why? All revelation is covenantal revelation. Everything that is revealed is revealed by the covenant Lord to make us his servants. Obedience and knowledge are near synonyms. Thus applying this concept to ethics, he writes: “Christians should not follow non-Christian models, advocating an ‘ethics of law’ as opposed to a ‘situation ethic’ or an ‘ethic of authentic existence’. Rather, the Christian ethic should present law, situation, and ethical subject in organic unity” (Ibid, p.74).

(C) EXAMINING THE THREE ASPECTS/PERSPECTIVES OF PREACHING

1. “Prophetic” or Normative aspect.

To expound and teach the text so they understand Christ. The aim is to explain the text in its overall biblical context, which is always to ask “what does this tell me about the person/work/teaching of Jesus?” You haven’t expounded the text unless you have integrated its particular message with the climax of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. The alternative is “to expound biblical principles”—put the text in “systematic theological” context and then explain how it supports orthodox doctrine and ethics. But the text isn’t put into “redemptive-historical” context to reveal what this tells us specifically about the person and work of Christ.

2. “Kingly” or Situational aspect.

To apply and counsel with the text so that they put on Christ. The aim is to use the text on the hearers’ practical life issues and problems, which is always to ask “how am I failing to rejoice in and live as if this were true about who Jesus is and what he did?” You haven’t really solved an individual or community problem unless you have shown the solution to be Christ’s person and work. The typical alternative is “to call for moral reformation”. This approach merely exhorts people to try hard to live up to biblical principles. It usually preaches justification by Christ’s work, but it encourages sanctification by our work rather than Christ’s.

3. “Priestly” or Existential aspect.

To adore and worship with the text so that they rejoice in Christ. The aim is to experience Christ through the text as you present it, so the hearers have a true sense of God on their hearts. This is to ask: “how can I adore and rejoice in Christ from what I learned?” You haven’t really fulfilled the text’s purpose unless you aim to bring people into the presence of God through Christ. The typical alternative is simply “to provide information”. Of course, the setting for your communication is all-important. Is this a lecture or the sermon in a worship service? But regardless of the setting, the goal is not just information-transfer. Jesus is a living person, and the goal of every communication is to get the hearers to sense him as such.

Christ the Key to the Model: The “Christo-centric” focus is not added to the other factors. Christ-centeredness suffuses the whole and is the key. It is only as you show how the text reveals Christ that you truly expound its meaning. It is only as you solve problems with Christ that you change lives. It is only as you point to the ultimate reference in Christ that the presentation jumps from being a “Sunday School lesson” into an act of worship.

(D) ALTERNATIVE PREACHING MODELS

Without all three aspects, we are left with something inadequate. Some examples:

1. “Doctrinal”. When preaching concentrates too much on expounding and too little on the other aspects, it ‘hits’ the intellect rather than the heart and the result is more of a ‘lecture’. It is neither life-converting nor does it lead the hearers to corporate worship. Many approaches to preaching now being emphasized in the Reformed evangelical world fall under this category, for fear of the excesses of pietism and emotionalism. In my estimation, much that is called ‘Redemptive-Historical’ and ‘Expository’ preaching fits in this category, though I would insist that the model we are presenting has strong claim to those terms.

2. “Practical”. When preaching concentrates too much on applying, it ‘hits’ the will rather than the heart and the result is more of a ‘how-to talk’. It does not challenge the mind and (again) it does not lead the hearers to corporate worship on the spot. Several forms of this have been popular in our century. In the church growth movement, there has been an emphasis ‘user-friendly’ motivational sermons that focus on setting priorities, handling stress, raising out families, and so on. In the mainline church, liberal activist preaching starts with commentary on current social injustice and then moves to practical action plans to deal with it. In many fundamentalist churches, sermons are little more than moralistic exhortations to “live right”.

3. “Devotional”. When preaching concentrates too much on arousing feelings of devotion and too little on the other aspects, it ‘hits’ the emotions rather than the heart. While this may provide sentiment at the moment, the understanding has not been renewed and converted and therefore the life remains unchanged. In the last decade, there has been a major emphasis on what is loosely called ‘narrative preaching.’ Often one or more lengthy stories, taken from the Bible or elsewhere, are re-told in a dramatic and gripping way. As we will see, Christ-centered preaching does something similar, but much narrative preaching uses the story to work on feelings only.

E. EVALUATING OUR PREACHING

Though this model is not a practicum, it should lead to much better evaluation of your own preaching. Here are some evaluation questions for a sermon based on this model.

Truth – Was it sound? What was the point—was it clear? Was Jesus preached as the climax or was he added on or missing?

Life – Was it fresh? What difference will it make—was it practical? Was Jesus preached as the solution or were people told to try harder?

Power – Was there a sense of God? What was the central metaphor—was it gripping? Was Jesus made visible or only taught about?

A Longer Evaluation Form

Truth – Is it biblical? Are the assertions validly rooted in the text? Do they convincingly arise from the text? Do they square with the analogy of faith—the whole of Scripture? Are the assertions validly rooted to the redemptive/historical context? Was the central theme solved or illustrated by Christ? Was it really about Jesus?

Truth – Is it clear? Was it obvious what the speaker was driving at during the talk? Was the progression traceable? When it was over, did you know what the main point was? Was it persuasive to the hearers, using lines of argument they could follow?

Life – Is it insightful? Was it clear that the speaker understood the hearers ‘reality’—their very hopes, fears, problems, concerns? Did it leave out non-Christians or Christians? Were the assertions put in a fresh, wise, and striking way, or was it rather boring or cliché-ridden?

Life – Is it practical? Were instructions given on how to implement and practice concretes in behavior? Was Christ and his finished work applied as the practical solution to any problem? Was moralizing or psychologizing avoided and distinguished from the gospel?

Power – is it vivid? Were there some central metaphors used so the basic concepts are given in concrete form? Were the five senses appealed to? Was the imagination engaged? Was Christ presented in some concrete aspect of his person or work? Were one of the biblical metaphors for him invoked? Did he become ‘visible’?

Power – is there transcendence? Was there a goal to merely instruct, or to get people face to face with God? Did the speaker seem aware of God or just aware of his sermon and audience? Was there a balance of warmth, love, and humility on the one hand, and force, power, authority on the other?

A PERSONAL NOTE (From Tim Keller)

Though I learned about ‘Christo-centric’ preaching from Ed Clowney and about the Reformed doctrine of ‘sanctification by faith’ from Roger Nicole when in seminary, and though there I also learned about the difference between mere ‘notional knowledge’ and heart-affections from Richard Lovelace, it took at least 15 years for these concepts to really filter down and begin to effect my preaching. My preaching for many years was basically Puritan-preaching (doctrine, application) with Christ tacked on at the end. All during that time, I would have certainly professed to be doing “Christo-centric” preaching, but really, in general, I was lifting Jesus up as an example and urging people to live like him.

(Note: Ed Clowney, “Often we treat the Bible as a text rather than the Word of the living God”).

 

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Tim Keller on Mars Hill Preaching, Homosexuality, and Transgender Identity

Tim Keller in office image

Owen Strachan with Tim Keller

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Manhattan pastor Tim Keller for Christianity Today. The interview was about Keller’s new book Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton, Nov. 2013). It’s a book that would be marvelous to read whether for one’s own edification or for the purposes of discipleship or evangelism. If you’re in college ministry, and in particular ministry to thoughtful students on a secular college campus, this book will be very valuable.

In the course of my free-ranging conversation with Keller, we touched on some matters that were not directly related to the book and thus weren’t included in the CT interview. I was helped and heartened by Keller’s characteristically winsome, gracious, and convictional thoughts on these topics, and I’m glad to share them.

Keller on quoting cultural authorities in his preaching to “bring people along”:

The only reason to do so is if you’re in an Acts 17 setting. In Acts 13, Paul goes to a synagogue and expounds the Bible. But these are people who trust the Bible…so Paul does a very simple exposition. In Acts 17, Paul’s talking to people with no faith. There’s disagreement over how much he’s quoting, but he quotes poets and pagan authors and makes a more common appeal to natural reason, as it were.

What I try to do since I have people in a spectrum—people who don’t trust the Bible at all or people who trust it a lot—so what I do is expound Scripture, and then I add sources where people agree. I’m not basing my authority on Dylan Thomas, but when I’m able to bring in someone that the broader culture really trusts, it helps the people who doubt biblical authority to see how the Bible is true.

If I was speaking in a Mars Hill situation, I might give a topical talk like Paul did. So most of my preaching is somewhere in the middle. I’m supplementing my points to make it a little easier for the skeptic to accept my point. I’m trying to bring people along; I want the person to come with me. In the earlier parts of my sermon I’m trying to fortify—this psychologist says that, and so on. But at the end, I’m bringing in Jesus as the solution to the problem, and I’m not using those sources anymore.

Keller on how the church should speak to the issue of homosexuality:

You always want to speak in the most disarming way, but still be very truthful. Both disarming and truthful. I’m not sure most of us speak in that way—trying to be both. Ed Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary, said this many years ago: We tend to say we preach the Bible, but you tend to preach the answers to the questions you’ve posed to the Bible. Whether you know it or not, you read the Bible with certain questions. A Korean might have a question in mind when he reads that an African wouldn’t have. Right now our culture asks certain questions and we can’t help but respond to them. We do that in the most disarming way, but to some degree we can’t ignore the culture’s questions. We need to give biblical answers to the culture’s questions. You don’t give them the answers they want, you give them the answers they need. You can’t be a responsible pastor if you don’t.

If we are going to shepherd and teach, we must give the most disarming and truthful answers.

Keller on how the church should handle the shift to transgender identity in the broader culture:

Jerome Kagan in The Atlantic has talked about how we’re all wired—there are three basic ways to deal with threats. Some run, some fight, some stop and get philosophical. You find this insight in neurochemistry—across 36 cultures, these instincts are wired into us. These are very much who we are. In only a small percentage of the threatening situations is our habitual approach the right one. The worst thing parents can do is listen to the culture when it says, “Let your child be who that child is. Don’t try to change him.” Kagan says that’s the worst thing you can do. Children need to be pulled out of their natural instincts. Parents need to intervene and not let their natures run them. Doing so is a form of child neglect.

I’ve never forgotten that with the transgender question. We’re told we can only affirm [this identity] today. The lack of wisdom in this response will become more evident over time. We’re now a radical individualistic culture. If you do anything against it, you’re sacrilegious. I think we’ll see 20 years of mistakes, and then we’ll realize it wasn’t a good idea.

Keller on the state of the complementarian movement:

The arguments are pretty well made now. At this point, complementarians need to get our own house in order and show that our families and churches are thriving places. That’s more important than anything right now….Kathy and I are very committed to saying that Christians are committed to complementarianism.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2014/06/tim-keller-on-mars-hill-preaching-homosexuality-and-transgender-identity/#ixzz34R1n4Myf

 

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Tim Keller: Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World – Notes Session 4

Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World: Applying Christ:

Introduction to Christ-centred Application

Tim Keller preaching image

By Tim Keller

Keller defines 4 ways of getting to Christ from the text organically:

(1) Theme Resolution

Inter-canonical themes are themes that cut across the Biblical canon, for instance the theme of Kingdom or law or grace. The theme develops and thickens as scripture progresses.

Broad themes:

1) The King and the Kingdom - The freedom and glory of God’s kingdom is lost when Adam and Eve sin. The people throughout the OT needed a good Kingship. Only the creator Himself is a satisfactory King because the problems of His people are too deep for any human King to deal with.

2) Grace and Law – This theme asks the question: How can God remain holy and gracious with a rebellious people?

Approaches to this theme:

Conservative: God commands obedience for the receiving of every blessing.

Liberal: God loves everyone no matter what they do.

The conservative approach is exclusively set on the holiness of God while the liberal approach is only focuses on the love of God.

Isaiah highlights the tension in his writing when describing a strong King and a suffering servant. Christ fulfills the covenant so we can be saved by grace through faith. Perfection is needed to satisfy God’s holiness.

Narrow themes:

Worship: How can we be in the presence of God? The presence of God is experienced and removed in the garden and then restored by Christ through the cross administered into the church.

Righteousness and Nakedness: How can we look good in God’s eyes? We are spiritually naked as a result of the fall. Christ clothes us with His righteousness.

Marriage and Faithfulness: How can we know love and intimacy? The love of God is obscured by sin. Christ wins the love of His spouse by

Image and Likeness: How can we become fully human? Humanity has been degraded through sin. Christ is the ultimate image of God restoring the image of God back to the people by sanctification.

Rest and Sabbath: How can we find harmony with those around us? Enmity with God and others is brought on by sin. Christ reconciles us back to God by His death and back to people within the context of church.

Judgement and Justice: Will justice ever been administered? Bad things happen to good people because of sin. Christ was a judge who was judged to secure ultimate justice for eternity.

When preaching about the psalmist’s desire to go to the sanctuary you shouldn’t say ‘that’s the reason you should want to come to church on Sunday’. Instead say ‘we have more access to the presence of God than the psalmist as we are the temple of God.’ We should allure people to obedience rather than just enforcing it. We need to make obedience look attractive.

(2) Law Completion

This is preaching Christ from one ethical principle. Gal 3:24 tells us that the law leads us to Christ. Preach Christ from ethical principles by showing that He completely does all of what we should do. Jesus is the only way to take the law seriously. The law is saying ‘you can never fulfill me, you need a Savior.’

Say to the people: unless Christ has saved you, you’re stuck.’ Then take people to the generosity of Christ. Melt their hearts by Christ’s love to move people to faith.

Christ exemplifies and fulfills every law.

(3) Story Insertion

Take the story you’re looking at and put it into the bigger story. Look for pictures of Christ in the text. All individual stories point to Jesus. Jesus is the true Adam, Abel, Abraham….Every story is about Jesus.

This principle is also true of cooperate story lines: Jesus Christ is the true creator- we were created through Him. The creation story teaches us that Temptation in the wilderness: The fall points forward to the active obedience of Christ. Moses took the people out of political bondage; Jesus redeemed the people from spiritual bondage.

Jesus is the true Israel. Jesus earns the blessings of the covenant to all who believe.

Another sort of typology sees Christ from the narrative pattern of the text: God working through the weak, God bringing life through death, God working through defeat.

Esther sacrificed to save Israel as Christ sacrificed Himself. The acts of Esther and Ruth mirror the way in which Christ brought salvation to us.

The order of the Exodus and the law giving teaches us about Christ. The law is given after redemption. Obedience is demanded after grace is received.

(4) Symbol Fulfillment

Every major figure points us to Christ. The non-personal symbols point us to Christ. The entire sacrificial and temple system points us to Christ. Etc.

Source: Personal Notes from Tim Keller lecture at Westminster in Philadelphia, D.Min course in early 2000’s.

 

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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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Tim Keller: No One Seeks God – Romans 3:9-20

SERIES – Bible: The Whole Story—Redemption and Restoration #9

Tim Keller preaching image

Preached in Manhattan on March 1, 2009

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. - Romans 3:9-20

The Bible, we say every week, is not so much a series of little disconnected stories, each with a moral. The Bible is actually a single story about what’s wrong with the world and the human race, what God has done to put that right in Jesus Christ, and finally how history then, as a result, is going to turn out in the end. That is the story of the Bible. What we’re looking at in Romans 1–4 is Saint Paul’s version of that entire biblical story, which is also called the gospel.

We are coming here, in this passage, to the very end of his analysis of what’s wrong with the human race, which, though it’s a tiny little word, is fraught with profound meaning. The Bible’s answer to the question “Why? What’s wrong with the human race?” is the word sin. Paul here is giving us a kind of summary statement of the biblical doctrine, you could say, of sin.

When I was a new believer and just trying to work my way around the Bible, I want you to know this particular passage gave me fits. It was a tough passage for me. Some of the statements seemed over the top. It bothered me, and I wrestled with it, but eventually it revolutionized my way of thinking about life and about myself and about the world.

I’ll share a little bit of what I learned back then with you now. This is perhaps the most radical, the strongest of all the statements the Bible gives us about what’s wrong with the human heart. We’re going to learn three things about sin here: the egalitarianism of sin, the trajectory of sin, and the cure for sin.

1. The egalitarianism of sin. We’re going to work pretty much through the passage. In the very beginning, in verses 9 and 10, Paul is making a statement. He’s making a point that I’m going to call the egalitarianism of sin. He says over and over again there’s no one righteous, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks for God, but it’s in verse 9 that he says the most amazing thing. He says, “Jew and Gentile alike are under sin. Are we any better? Not at all!”

Now you have to remember Paul is looking back to Romans 1, where he’s talking about the pagan Gentiles rolling in the streets … sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a long list of sexual practices and evil corruption practices, civil and corporate and individual. Then Paul identifies himself as a God-fearing Jew who is trying to obey the Ten Commandments in chapter 2, and he says, “Are we any better than them? Not at all.”

Moral and immoral, religious and secular, he’s saying there is no difference. In fact, in the beginning he says, “… alike are under sin.” What does that mean? If you want to understand what that means, you can scroll to the bottom of the text, where it says in verse 19, “… the whole world [is] held accountable to God.”

The word accountable means liable. It’s a judicial word. It means liable for punishment. What he’s saying is, no matter who you are, no matter what your record, no matter whether you’ve lived a life of altruism and compassion and service or a life of cruelty and exploitation, we’re all alike. We’re all condemned. We’re all lost. We all deserve to be rejected by God. That’s what he’s saying.

How could that be? That’s actually getting to the next point. Let me remind you of what we even know from last week in looking at Romans 2. Paul is saying a criminal robbing and murdering people and a moral, religious, upright Pharisee who thinks because of his good deeds and his righteousness God owes him blessing and people owe him respect …

Paul is saying as different as those look on the surface, underneath those are both expressions of the same radical self-centeredness, radical self-absorption, that is sin. Now how that can be we’ll get to in a second, but here’s what I want you to see. When Paul says “all alike,” and, “Are they any better than us? Not at all!” this is radical egalitarianism. I want you to see the implications of this. Let me give you two implications.

The first implication is if you’re looking at Christianity, and I know some of you are, if you’re thinking about Christianity like, “Well, what is this about?” if you’re exploring it, if you want to know more about it, almost always you come unconsciously with a preliminary model already determined in your mind for how this is going to work.

Basically, most people come to Christianity saying, “We’re going to explore this,” and you start to say, “Okay, somehow there’s some things, this and that, I must do for God, and if I do this and that for God, then God will be obliged to do this and that for me. That’s how spirituality works. If I do this and that for God, God will do this and that for me.” That’s the model in your head. You kind of assume it. You think you’re exploring, though you’ve already assumed that model. What you’re actually exploring, you think, is what the this and the that are.

Most people think, “Well, spirituality works like this. There is some kind of life that is considered a good life, and I must adopt it. There is a kind of life that is a bad life, and I must reject it. Then if I adopt a good life and reject and abandon the bad life, then God will do this and that. I’m just trying to find out what is a good life, what do I have to stop doing, what do I have to start doing, what will God do.”

That’s what you think of exploring. But I want you to see the model is wrong. Hear me. Whatever Paul is talking about when he calls people to become Christians and receive salvation, whatever Jesus is calling us to do when he calls us to take salvation, they can’t be calling us to simply stop bad living and start good living, because he’s saying here the people who live good are no better than the people who live bad. They’re all spiritually lost. Spiritually speaking, they’re in the very same place.

So if you think what it means to become a Christian is, “There are certain things I have to stop doing and certain things I have to start doing, then God will bless me,” you’re wrong. What is it then? I’m just trying to get you to see that because you come in with a grid, it doesn’t actually understand or accept this, because there’s nobody who believes this except Christians. No other worldview, no other religion, no other philosophy says anything like this.

The fact is that whatever it is Jesus and Paul are calling you to in order to get salvation, it’s nothing like anything you can conceive of. You’re going to have to listen really carefully, because it’s not on your mental map. Whatever it is, it is a category-buster. I just want you to recognize that. It’s unique. It’s different. It’s not what you expect, and you’re going to have to listen carefully.

The gospel doesn’t really fit into other human categories. So first of all, please keep in mind that Paul and Jesus and I … When I call you to become a Christian, I’m not just saying, “Stop living like this and start living like this.” Of course I want you to change your life. A changed life is absolutely important, but it can’t be the main thing. It can’t be the chief thing. It can’t be the central thing. Why? Because people who live good lives and people who live bad lives are all alike, according to God.

Now the other implication is, let’s just say you have embraced Christianity. You say, “I am a Christian.” Do you realize the radical nature of the statement, “Are we any better? Not at all!”? There was nobody who ever lived, probably, who was more dedicated and upright and moral, and dedicated to his God, to his principles, to the Scriptures, than Paul.

It’s just amazing if you read all the way through Romans. Paul goes through the list of sexual practices and various sorts of corruption in chapter 1, and then he gets to chapter 3 and says, “Am I any better than them? Not at all!” For Paul to say, “I have come to the conclusion, through the gospel, that the criminal who is killing people and robbing people and raping people in the street is equal to me. I am no better than that person,” is unbelievable.

I want you to think about this. Paul was a Pharisee, and as a Pharisee he would have considered Gentiles as spiritual dogs and unclean. Yet here he is now, dedicating his life to living with them, to living with these racially other people. Is it possible, before the gospel came to Paul, that he could have looked at heretics and infidels and said, “We’re equal.” Could he have looked at pagans and at libertines and immoral people and said, “We’re equal”? Not on your life!

But now here’s what’s going on. A group of people, big swaths of the human race, that he would have looked down on, that he would have scorned, that he would have written off, that he would have showed no love and respect for … The gospel, the doctrine of sin, has radically re-humanized the human race for Paul.

Do you hear me? Radically re-humanized. There are all kinds of people he would have looked down on, caricatured them, thought, “Who has anything to do with them?” But now, “I’m no better than them.” These people are radically re-humanized in his mind. Now do you think this doctrine of total depravity …

That’s an old theological term for this doctrine, the idea that the world is not filled with good people and bad people, but all people are lost, all people need salvation, all people are sinful. Total depravity … Do you think the doctrine of total depravity will make you look down on people? Not at all. Look what happened to Paul.

If you believe in this doctrine of total depravity, and you think it out, and you take it to the center of your life, it re-humanizes the human race. All kinds of people that you would have never given the time of day to, you now love and respect. Why? Because I’m no better. Wherever you are socially, your social location, makes you prone to look down your nose at people of certain races, certain classes, certain nationalities.

Even your vocation does. You’re an artist. “Look at the traditional, middle-class bourgeois.” You’re a traditional, middle-class bourgeois. “Look at these freaky, stupid artists.” You’re conservative, or you’re liberal. You really feel about your politics … Do you really look at the other side and say, “I’m no better”? No, you don’t say that. You say, “We’re a lot better.”

It’s true. Any place you are in the world, whatever your racial or your cultural group, your national grouping, you have a history with another kind of person, another kind of grouping, that your social location makes you tend to despise. But if you believe in the doctrine of sin, you’re no better. Do you see the radical egalitarianism of the biblical doctrine of sin?

2. The trajectory of sin

We also learn here about the trajectory of sin. We have to now deal with the fact that a lot of people say, “This is just over the top.” I did as a young Christian. I looked at this and I see Paul saying no one seeks for God. It sure seems to me there’s an awful lot of people spiritually searching and seeking to please God. Then it says no one does good. “Wow, wait a minute. What do you mean, nobody does good?”

But if you look more carefully, you will see what Paul is giving us here is a definition of sin that goes deep. He’s showing us that sin is relational before it ever becomes, if it ever becomes, a behavioral thing like breaking the law. Why? Look at the word turn away. “All have turned away …” Even look at the word seek. “… there is … no one who seeks God.”

These are directional words. What it’s talking about is trajectory. It’s talking about direction. Your aim. Therefore, sin is not so much a matter of whether you’re doing bad things or good things. Sin is mainly a matter of what you’re doing your doing for. We’re being told sin makes you want to get away from God. Not go toward him; get away.

Sin makes you want to get out from under his gaze, get out from under his hands, get out from under his control. You want to be your own savior. You want to be your own lord. You want to keep God at arm’s length. You want to stay in control of your own life. That’s what sin makes you want to do. As we have often said, but we have to say it now again, there are two ways to be your own savior and lord.

There are two ways to keep God at arm’s length. One is to be a law to yourself. Live any way you want. The other is to be very, very, very good, and go to church and obey the Bible and do everything you possibly can and try to be like Jesus, so that God has to bless you, so God has to save you, in which case you’re trying to get control over God. In that case you’re not seeking God. You’re seeking things from God.

The text doesn’t say, “No one seeks blessing from God.” Of course they do. “No one seeks answers to prayer from God.” Of course they do. “No one seeks forgiveness from God.” Of course they do. “No one seeks spiritual …” Of course they do. But no. Paul’s saying no one seeks God. All your so-called serving, and all your so-called doing good, is really for yourself. It’s away from God. It’s away from others. It’s toward self-centeredness. That’s the trajectory.

Let me give you an example of how what looks like selflessness and sacrificial love and service is not. AA can tell you. People who are involved in AA know about this sort of thing. What I’m about to describe to you happens all the time. I’m going to describe to you a married couple in which one spouse is an alcoholic.

By the way, it could be the woman rather than the husband, but I’m just going to make it this way. I’m going to have the husband be the alcoholic and the wife not. Here’s how it often works. Often the husband is an alcoholic. So what does the wife have to do? Over the years, she has to bail him out. She has to make excuses for him. She has to clean up his mess. She has to constantly rescue him.

Then of course, she turns on him and says, “Do you know what I’m doing for you? I’m not leaving you. I’m staying with you. I’m trying to keep this marriage together. I’m trying to keep our family together. I’m trying to keep our family economically afloat, no thanks to you. I have to do this, and I have to do that, and I have to do all these things. Look what you’re doing to me! I suffer so much for you. I give so much to you, and yet you do this over and over and over again.”

So she seems to be the one who’s serving. She seems to be the one who is giving of herself. Yet AA will tell you how often this will happen. If the husband gets into rehabilitation and begins to get better, very often the marriage will fall apart. She won’t like it. She won’t be able to deal with it. Why not? If she really loved him, she’d want the best for the person she loved. If you love a person, you want the best for the person. The best thing for an addict is to go sober. If she really loves him, she should love to have him sober, but she doesn’t.

Do you know why? Here’s what usually happens. She needed him to be a mess so she could rescue him, so she could feel good about herself, so she could feel worthwhile, so she could feel in control, so she could demand things of him and other people, so she could feel very noble about herself. She wasn’t seeking him. She wasn’t loving him. She was loving herself. She wasn’t serving him. She was serving herself. She wasn’t seeking him. She was seeking things from him. She was seeking power. She was seeking control.

Underneath all that selflessness, and underneath all that service, she was serving herself, and she was being radically selfish. She was doing all the right things, but she was doing it for herself. Paul is saying that is the case with all of us actually. Unless the Holy Spirit comes in to change your heart, nobody serves God for God.

Nobody is really seeking God. They’re seeking things from God. Nobody even serves others, because you always serve people, you always serve God, as long as it benefits you, so you can feel good about yourself, so you can make demands, so you can feel noble. No one seeks for God. No one does good.

It doesn’t mean nobody formally does good things. Of course it is better to give to the poor, of course it is better to forgive somebody than it is to harm somebody or to spend all the money on yourself. Of course. I’m not saying there aren’t such things as virtuous deeds, but we’re looking at the heart. We’re looking at trajectory.

I want you to know (I’ll just finish the little personal story here), that early on in my Christian life, when I was struggling with Romans 3 and figuring, “This just seems over the top. I feel like I do good. I feel like I sought God before I became a Christian too.” I just thought Paul was just being over-the-top.

But I remember sometime in my early Christian walk, and it would have been in my early 20s, I had a very bad patch. Everything was going wrong in my life. I suppose looking back on it … I don’t even remember the circumstances. For all I know, looking back on it, it might have been pretty weak tea, but at the time it seemed like the end of the world.

I was sitting there and praying, and I actually began to say, “Why should I be praying? What am I getting out of this relationship with God? He doesn’t answer my prayers. There are all these unjust things happening around me. I’ve worked my fingers to the bone for this man. What am I getting out of it?”

I had a thought. I’ll never forget the thought. Because I’m a Presbyterian, I figured it was a hunch. If I was a member of some other denominations I would have said it was God speaking to me. Now in my mature theological position, as I think about it, it was probably God speaking to me through a hunch. The thought was this. “Now, only now that everything is going wrong in your life … now we’ll find out whether you got into this faith to get God to serve you or in order to serve God. Now we’ll know.”

I began to realize, maybe Paul was right that really every single part of my heart either did bad things, or now that I was doing good things I was doing good things for myself. No one seeks for God. No one is righteous. No one is really doing good for goodness’ sake, or for God’s sake, or even for other people’s sake, but for your own sake. That radical self-centeredness is what’s making the world a mess. I came to see that I was running from God even in my good deeds. Do you? I hope you do.

3. The cure for sin

Now lastly, how are we going to cure this? I mean, this is a problem. In fact, this middle part of the passage says, “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”

Whenever I look out on a Manhattan crowd, many of you look quite marvelous, but this is what you look like to God. Night of the Living Dead. Look at it. It’s amazing. Spiritually speaking, this is the case. Underneath all of our doing good, underneath all the good deeds and working for charity and trying to do the right thing and trying to honor your parents, all the good deeds … there’s anger. There’s touchiness. There’s turning on people if they harm you.

There’s a great deal of discouragement and unhappiness because, “God is not doing what he ought to be doing in my life.” Inside, it’s all a mess. It’s like a kind of spiritual leprosy. You may look great on the outside, but inside you’re falling apart. It’s like spiritual leprosy. What will cure us? Paul here at the end tells us two things that are the keys to the cure. The first thing is, at the very end, “… every mouth may be silenced …”

When Paul says that, you must remember this is the end of his exposition of why we need salvation. Starting in verse 21, he begins to open us up to salvation. He says, “But now a salvation or righteousness …” But he’s bringing us to this point. This is his way of saying you’ll never be able to receive Christ’s salvation unless you shut up spiritually, unless your mouth is silenced.

What does it mean to be shut up, to shut up spiritually? To have your mouth silenced means no excuses, and no Plan B. See, if you say, “Oh, I know I did wrong, God, but I can do better next time. I know I’ve done these things wrong, but I can turn it around. I see my motives are bad, but I can change my motives …” Shut up.

As long as you’re still saying, “I know I can do … I know I can do …” Paul says you haven’t shut up and you’re not ready for salvation. You can’t receive the cure for this sin unless you realize you can’t fix yourself, you realize that even trying to fix yourself makes yourself worse, because every effort to somehow put it together and be a better person and really try harder is really just another effort in self-justification, self-salvation, self-sufficiency. You’re just making yourself worse.

This condition of spiritually shutting up and just being quiet so you can receive the cure doesn’t mean, by the way, beating yourself up. “Oh, I’ve done so wrong.” Shut up. You’re still centered on yourself. You have to get to the end of yourself. The only way to begin to get pulled out of the radical self-centeredness of sin is to get to the end of yourself.

That means not just saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry for my sin. I’ll try to do better.” You have to not only be sorry for your sin but even sorry for the reason you did anything right in your whole life, which means you have nothing to do but receive. There is nothing you can do now. You just have to wait and listen.

John Gerstner puts it like this. Because of the gospel, “… the way to God is wide open. […] No sin can hold him back, because God has offered justification to the ungodly. Nothing now stands between the sinner and God but the sinner’s ‘good works.’ ” Now listen carefully. “All they need is need. All they must have is nothing.” But most people don’t have it. They have, “Well, look at the good things I’ve done.” Shut up. “But look at how bad these are. I can …” Shut up.

See, what he’s saying here is all you need is need. All you need is nothing. But most people don’t have it. He’s saying the way you open yourself to salvation, in fact the only way you can receive God’s salvation is not just simply to repent of your sins. Pharisees repent of their sins. When they do something wrong, they say, “Oh, I did wrong, and now I’m going to do better.”

They repent of their sins, and they’re still Pharisees. If you want to become a Christian, you don’t just repent of your sins, but you also begin to repent of the reason you did anything right. Now you’re in a position to say, “I need something completely different than just help to live the right way.” So first of all, shut up. Spiritual silence.

The second thing you need for the cure is the fear of the Lord. Actually, the cure is there. I never realized it until I started studying this passage and getting ready to teach it to you. Look at this. “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. […] Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery …” Why? “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Do you see? If they had fear, they wouldn’t have all those things. The fear of God is the antidote. It’s the cure. The fear of God is the opposite. The reason they do all those things is there’s no fear, so if you put in the fear, you have the cure. What is that? See, here it is. What is the fear of the Lord? All through the Bible, fear of the Lord is a major concept. It sure is.

Do you know how often it says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom? It says it in Job. It says it in Psalms. It says it in Proverbs. What does that mean? Wisdom means until you fear God, you can’t even begin to think straight about reality. “Well then, what is this fear of the Lord if it’s so important, if it’s the cure for my sin?”

The trouble is, for us, the fear of the Lord sounds like being scared of the Lord. It doesn’t. Do you know why? First of all, if you actually start to look at the way the texts use the words fear of the Lord in the Bible, you hear things like this. Deuteronomy 10 says, “What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, love him, and serve him with all your heart and soul?” To fear God is to love him with all your heart and soul.

Well then, why do they call it fear? Let me go on further. Psalm 119 says, “Because you fulfill your promise to me, I fear you.” What? “Because you’ve been so good to me, I’m filled with fear.” Then Psalm 130:4, which is maybe the classic text. “But because you have forgiven me, therefore, I fear you.” Whatever the fear of the Lord is, it is increased when you see and experience God’s salvation, his grace, his goodness, his love. It increases.

“Well,” you say, “why would you call it fear? It sounds like you should call it joy. Why fear?” The fear of God is joyful, humbling awe and wonder before the salvation of God. It’s called fear because it’s not just happiness. When you really see the salvation of God and what it is, on the one hand it affirms you to the sky, but at the same time it humbles you into the dust. That’s why it’s called fear. Let’s call it the joyful fear, awe and wonder before the greatness of God’s salvation.

It turns you out of yourself. It turns you away from the being curved in, the self-centeredness, because on the one hand you’re too humbled to just be self-centered, and you’re too affirmed to need to be. Therefore this joyful fear is the cure, and it happens when you see his salvation. You say, “Well, what does that mean? See his salvation? What does that mean?” I’ll tell you what it means. Just think like this, and let’s conclude like this. Because you don’t seek for God, because I don’t seek for God, because nobody seeks for God, God’s salvation has to be God seeking for us.

There are a lot of religions that say human beings can seek for God. If you just try hard, you can find him. So God sits there and says, “Here are the rules, and here are all the things you need to do. If you pick them up and you do them, I’m sure you can find me.” In other words, in most religions, salvation is you finding God. But in the Christian religion, in Christian faith, it’s the opposite. Salvation is God seeking and finding you. If you know what he did to do that, it will fill you with this joyful, humbling, sin-curing fear.

Let me just give you one story to tell you about it. In the Old Testament, God goes to one prophet named Hosea, and he says, “Hosea, you see this woman over here named Gomer? Marry her.” So Hosea says, “Sure. I’m a prophet. You’re God. You spoke to me. I’ll marry her.” It’s not long after he’s married to her he begins to realize she has wayward feet, she is not being faithful to him, she is being sexually unfaithful to him. As she begins to have children, he realizes they’re not his children. In fact, he names one of them “Not Mine.”

Finally her unfaithfulness gets worse and worse and worse, and eventually she leaves him. She just leaves him and leaves the kids and goes off to one man, then goes off to another man, then goes off to another man. She gets what she deserves, because she’s so faithless. She’s breaking every promise, and she’s lying. Finally the last man sells her into slavery.

Hosea turns to God and says, “Remind me why you asked me to marry her.” God basically says, “So you will know something about my relationship to you. Now you’ll know what it’s like for me. Now you know what it’s like to be me.” “Here’s what I want you to do, Hosea,” he says. “I want you to go where she is being bid on, and I want you to purchase her freedom. I want you to take her back. Then you’ll know what it’s like to be me.”

So there’s poor Gomer. From what we can tell, she’s being bid on as a slave. She’s probably stripped naked, because they were, so the buyers could see what they were buying. She’s standing there, and suddenly to her shock she hears her husband’s voice bidding. He purchases her freedom.

He walks up to her, and instead of berating her, he takes his cloak off and covers her nakedness and says, “Now you will come home and be my wife.” Wow, how moving that is! It’s nothing compared to what God has done for you. Do you know what God is saying to you through Hosea? Poor Hosea. He had to do it so I could use this sermon illustration. It ruined his whole life.

But guess what? It was worth it, because God is trying to say, “Hosea just had to go to the next city, but I had to come from heaven to earth to find you. You weren’t seeking me. I had to seek you. I had to find you. I didn’t just have to reach and dig down in my pockets to get the money out to purchase your freedom. I had to go to the cross. There I had to suffer and die. I had to pay the penalty for your sins. Look at this sin. Somebody has to pay for it. I was stripped naked on the cross so I could clothe you with a robe of righteousness and say, ‘You come home with me.’ ”

When you see, not that “Oh, we all have the ability, if we really try hard enough, to go find God,” but that the salvation of the gospel is God seeking us, finding us, coming to us at infinite cost to himself, that will fill you with a holy fear, a joyful fear. You will find the cure has begun. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we thank you that now as we take up the bread and the cup and take the Lord’s Supper, we’re in a position where you can drive even closer into the center of our being the cure for sin. We see you sought us because we didn’t seek you. You had to do it, because if you had sat and waited for us to come find you, we never would have. We thank you, therefore, that it’s such a moving story, what you have done for us.

But most importantly is the objective work of Jesus Christ on the cross that opened a way for us, so now the only thing standing between us and you is this belief that we still have control of our lives, that we can earn our salvation. Help us now to set aside our sin and even set aside our righteousness and receive your free salvation. Cure our sin. Cure our hearts. Begin the cure now. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

 

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Book Review: Tim Keller’s “The Reason For God”

The Reason For God Keller

Mere Christianity for the 21st Century – Book Review by David P. Craig

In 1943 in Great Britain, when hope and the moral fabric of society were being threatened by the relentless inhumanity of global war, an Oxford don – C.S. Lewis was invited to give a series of radio lectures addressing the central issues of Christianity. Over half a century after the original lectures, the topic retains it urgency. Expanded into book form, Mere Christianity set out to provide a rational basis for Christianity in an era of modernity.

Fast forward to the 21st century. We now live in a post-modern era in the western world. When Lewis wrote in 1943 lines of black and white, right and wrong were very clear, not so anymore. How can we believe in a personal God in an age of skepticism unlike the times of fifty years ago? Are there any cogent reasons to believe in God in an age of relativistic thought? Enter Tim Keller.

Tim Keller’s Reason for God has provided for modern Christians and skeptics what C.S. Lewis provided in his time – a reasoned defense over the main objections to Christianity: (1) There can’t be just one true religion; (2) How could a good God allow suffering? (3) Christianity is a straightjacket; (4) The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice; (5) How can a loving God send people to Hell? (6) Science has disproved Christianity; (7) You can’t take the Bible literally…and then in provided seven offensive cases for the coherency of rational Christianity: (1) The clues of God; (2) The knowledge of God; (3) The problem of sin; (4) Religion and the Gospel; (5) The true story of the cross; (6) The reality of the resurrection; (7) The dance of God.

In reading the book one finds a step by step macro level picture of why a reasonable belief in God is rational and compelling in a postmodern world. All other world-views leave one full of loopholes and contradictions. Only Christianity  gives one the comprehensive lenses by which we can see ourselves, the world, and a personal God more clearly and logically. Life, relationships, and our place in the universe has meaning, purpose, and hope if there is indeed the existence of a Holy God who came and died for us to know Him and to make Him known.

I highly recommend this book for both skeptics of Christianity and believers in Christianity. It will answer the most important questions we can ever ask about faith, life, the after life, and the most important issues of our day. Tim Keller answers the profoundest questions we have with humility, sensitivity, biblically, and practically. It is one of the “must reading” books for our times. I especially would like to see Christians giving this book to their unbelieving friends and reading the book with them. It is a great book for discussion and building bridges to the gospel – and thus opening the door for a relationship with God through His Son – Jesus Christ.

 

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Jonathan Edwards on Why Society is So Fragmented Without God at the Center

The Nature of True Virtue Jonathan Edwards

By *Tim Keller

In The Nature of True Virtue, one of the most powerful treatises on social ethics ever written. Jonathan Edwards lays out how sin destroys the social fabric. He argues that human society is deeply fragmented when anything but God is our highest love. If our highest goal in life is the good of our family, then, says Edwards, we will tend to care less for other families. If our highest goal is the good of our nation, tribe, or race, then we will tend to be racist or nationalistic. If our ultimate goal in life is our own individual happiness, then we will put our own economic and power interests ahead of others. Edwards concludes that only if God is our summum bonum, our ultimate good and life center, will we find our heart drawn out not only to people of all families, races, and classes, but to the whole world in general.

*SOURCE: Tim Keller. The Reason For God. New York, Dutton, 2008, p. 166.

 

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Tim Keller Sermon: The Power of The Gospel

SERIES – Bible: The Whole Story—Redemption and Restoration – Part 6

Tim Keller preaching image

Prached on February 8, 2009 in Manhattan, N.Y.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:1-7, 14-17

Every week we start by saying we are tracing out the storyline of the Bible, because the Bible is not so much a series of disconnected, individual stories, each with a little lesson or moral telling us how to live. It’s primarily a single story telling us what’s wrong with the human race, what God has done to make things right, and how it’s all going to work out in the end.

We’re drilling down into three places in the Bible. We’ve drilled down into Genesis 1 to 4, where we learned something about what the Bible says about what’s wrong with us. Now we’re going to drill down into Romans 1 through 4, perhaps the single most comprehensive and packed place where, through a letter of Saint Paul, we learn what God did about it.

All scholars and students of Romans believe verses 16 and 17 are Paul’s way of putting the gospel in a nutshell, his message in a kind of thesis statement. Therefore, it’s an extremely important statement. I want to meditate on it with you to help you break through. That’s kind of an odd statement (break through). Let me tell you why I use the phrase.

Martin Luther, founder of Protestantism, actually, later in his life told a story. In the preface to one of his collections of writings, he wrote a little reminisce of a great experience he had (it’s also called the “Tower Experience”) as a young man. Many people would call it his conversion experience. It all had to do with Romans and Romans 1:16 and 17.

He wrote, “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him.

Therefore, I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. […] Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that, ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that … through gift and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” “When I saw that Law meant one thing and Gospel another, I broke through.”

That’s interesting. He had this breakthrough. What he means is he was completely transformed … his thinking, his heart, his life, everything … by these verses because he pondered and pondered until he broke through. I would like to help everybody here break through. That is to say if you haven’t, if these two verses have never done to you what they did to Luther, I’m going to try to show you three factors you have to grasp if you’re going to break through.

If it has, if the ideas here of these verses have transformed you, I’d like to give you by telling you the same three things (of course, since you’re all in the same room together) how you could help other people who are open have a breakthrough. There are three factors that have to do with breakthrough.

You have to grasp, according to, I think, this text, the form of the gospel, the content of the gospel, and the power of the gospel. The form, the content, and the power. I’ll give you tests along the way. I’m being very focused. How do we break through? You have to understand …

1. The form of the gospel

You can see, especially if you read all the way through Romans 1:1–17, the word gospel shows up more here than any other place in the book. In fact, I think it may be the word gospel shows up more in these verses per phrase than any other place in the Bible. We have to ask ourselves, “What is so important? Why this word?”

The word gospel, as most of you know, is a Greek word we transliterate euaggelion. That is, eu, the good, and aggelos, an angel. We look at the word angel in English, of course. Right away we think of wings and things like that, which is wrong, because the word aggelos means a herald. What actually is at the very heart of the word gospel is the news media. Did you know that? News media? Okay.

How did news about great historic events get distributed back in those days? What was the news media? No print paper. No audio, video, radio, television. Well, then how was news …? What was the media for the news? The answer is it was heralds. That is, everybody is back in the town because they know there’s a great military battle that’s being fought miles away, so they’re behind the barricades. They don’t know what’s going to happen.

What happens when the general achieves a great military victory? How do we spread the news? He would send heralds. The aggelos. An aggelia, which is a message or a herald. The news. The herald would come in to the town and declare the news, “Victory!” Then he would run to the next town square and proclaim “Victory!” Then everyone would go back home with joy.

If that’s at the very, very heart of the word gospel, if that’s what the message is, the essence of the Christian message is news … good, joyful news … then this is the difference between the gospel and every other philosophy or religion. The gospel is not good advice about what you must do. It’s primarily good news about what’s already been done for you, something that’s already happened.

See, other religions say, “If you really want to meet God, do this, this, and this.” It’s good advice. Only Christianity is not good advice but primarily good news about something that’s already been done for you. This is test one. We’ve talked about this actually not too many weeks ago, so I won’t belabor it, but it’s crucial. One of the breakthroughs is to realize how utterly different Christianity is because it’s good news, not good advice.

If I ask somebody here in New York, “What do you think the essence of Christianity is? What does it mean to be a Christian?” the average person on the street would say, “Well, I think it means to try to live like Jesus and try to love your neighbor, try to live by the Golden Rule.” I want you all to know I think that is an incredibly great idea. Let’s all do that. I’m all for it, but that’s not news. That’s not the heart of Christianity. It can’t be, because it’s not news.

Is that news? Is that news about what has been done for you … outside of you, for you … that inflicts in you such joy that you finally can live according to the Golden Rule? See, that’s Christianity. Something has happened outside you, something momentous. It’s happened outside you for you, and that’s what inflicts into you life-changing joy. Now I can live according to the Golden Rule.

To say being a Christian is the Golden Rule, that’s not news. Therefore, there’s no breakthrough. See, breakthrough, transformation, comes like this. If you say to somebody, “Here’s the essence of the Christian message. You need to live like Jesus and love your neighbor according to the Golden Rule,” there are only three responses to that. One is you say, “Sure, I knew that.” Shrug. Indifference.

The second, like Luther, is, “Oh, that’s very hard. I can’t do that.” Crushed. Discouraged. The third is the Pharisees say, “I do that all the time.” So either shrugged or bugged or smug. No breakthrough. No breakthrough! No, “Oh my word! I never thought of that.” See, that’s what happened. When Luther broke through, he said, “This is a paradigm shift.” Sorry, it’s cliché, but it’s far more than that but it’s not less.

Here’s my question. Here’s the first test. I don’t know what you believe, but whatever you believe about God or how you ought to live, is it mainly about you, or is it mainly about what he has done? Is it mainly about you and what you must do, or mainly about him and what he has done? Which is it? See the breakthrough? The gospel is news, not advice.

2. The content of the gospel

The content of the gospel is that very spot where Luther meditated and meditated, where he says, “For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed. A righteousness that comes by (dia, through) faith. Just as it is written, the one who is righteous through faith, that’s the person who lives.” He was thinking and thinking about this until suddenly he realized, “The righteousness of God is a righteousness that comes to me, and I receive by faith.” That opened everything up.

If we want to understand this term, which isn’t a very ordinary term … It’s a technical term in a way. It’s a term Paul uses, though, so we need to try to figure it out. It changed Luther’s life. It changed mine. We’re justified by faith. Let me use two illustrations to show you. The second one is considerably more poignant than the first.

The first one, though, think about this. Whenever we talk about being justified, we’re talking about not a change in the object but a change in the relationship to the object. Not a change inside the object, but relationship to the object. For example, if you’re speaking to me, and you say something, and I say, “Hmm. Justify that statement,” what do I mean?

I’m not saying, “Change the statement.” What I’m actually saying is, “It’s hard for me to accept that. Do something. Say something to change my relationship to the statement, to change my regard for it so I can accept it.” I’m not saying, “Change the statement.” “Help me get into a new relationship with it because I’m about to reject it.” “Justify that statement” means, “Change my regard for it. Do something.”

That is actually what the word means, especially at certain points here but also in Romans 5 where Paul says in verse 2, “Since we’re justified by faith, we have access to this grace in which we stand.” The word stand there means to stand in the presence of a great God or a great king or judge. This is what Paul is saying. Jesus has done something so God, looking at us, in spite of everything wrong with us … Jesus has done something to change God’s regard for us, his relationship to us.

Something has been done. See, that’s the news. Something has been done so now the Father looks at us and loves us and delights in us and accepts us. Our relationship has been changed. It’s not so much something happened inside, because then that would all be about us. That wouldn’t be gospel. It would all be, “Well, you have to do something.” It’s about something that’s happened outside of us that has changed God’s relationship to us. What is that?

To me, the second factor in what brings a breakthrough over the gospel is when you realize the gospel is about more than just forgiveness. Follow me, please. It’s about more than just forgiveness. Please don’t think I’m saying there’s anything wrong with forgiveness, but most people think that’s what this is. That’s what salvation is. That’s what Jesus did.

The idea is because Jesus died on the cross, when I do something wrong, I can ask God for forgiveness, and I’m forgiven. Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, of course it’s wonderful. It’s more than wonderful, but I want to show you here for a second it would not be enough. It’s way less than what’s being promised here. Yeah!

Because, see, if it’s true that that’s really salvation, that because Jesus died on the cross, now when I ask for forgiveness, I’m forgiven … God forgives me, wipes the slate clean. Do you realize what that means? It means that even though he has forgiven me for what I just did wrong, my relationship with him is still up to me because actually, in a sense, God says, “Hey, I just forgave you for what you did. I’m not going to hold that against you, but now you’d better get it right.” If that’s all forgiveness is, it’s not enough.

You know, for example, here’s a man, let’s just say, and he is in prison. What is going to get him a new life? Well, you could say the first thing that’s going to get him a new life is pardon. The governor writes a pardon, and he is out. Wow! He has a new life. No. He is just back to where all the rest of us slobs are. He is not in prison. Now he has to get a job. Now he has to work. It’s a long haul. He doesn’t have a new life yet.

You say, “Well, what more do you want?” I’ll tell you what’s more. The salvation of the gospel is not so much like simply getting a pardon to get out of prison. It’s besides getting a pardon, forgiveness. It’s also like getting the Congressional Medal of Honor on top of it. It’s a negative and a positive.

There’s a TV series called NCIS. It’s about Naval Criminal Investigative Services. It’s a cop show amongst military and criminal investigators. There’s a really great episode that was done about four years ago. The main character was played by Charles Durning, the great actor. The episode is about a poor broken-down old man, a former Marine, played by Charles Durning. He is in his eighties. He is broken down. He is kind of dowdy, and he is accused of murder. He is accused of murder!

At one point, two big, beefy Marines and a snarling Navy lawyer come after this poor little old man. They’re about to arrest him. They’re overshadowing him. Here he is standing in their presence accused. As they stand and they’re about to cuff him, actually, a friend of the old man pulls his tie aside. Under it is the Congressional Medal of Honor, because on Iwo Jima, he had done acts of extraordinary valor and bravery beyond the call of duty and had been given a Congressional Medal of Honor.

When he pulled that aside, the Marines and the snarling lawyer immediately saw what it was. Instead of looking at the poor little old man, the accused, condemned man, they saw that medal of honor, and they immediately snapped to attention and saluted. They were in awe. Just like that. It’s very, very good drama, and it’s very, very kind of moving to see. It is just an image, however faint, of what Paul is talking about here.

You know, one of the verses I always quote to you but I never explain is 2 Corinthians 5:21. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What does that mean? “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Well, think.

On the cross, what does it mean to say Jesus was made sin? God made him sin. Does that mean God made him sinful, God put sin in his heart so he became greedy and angry and violent? No! He was up there forgiving his enemies. I mean, no! He was up there loving his Father, even when his Father was turning on him. Absolutely it didn’t mean he became sinful. It means he was treated as our sins deserve. He was given the treatment our record deserves.

So what does it mean to say that when you give your life to Christ, our sins are put on him? “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In him! What does that mean? It can’t mean that automatically the minute you become a Christian, you become righteous in your heart any more than he became sinful on the cross. No, no, no, no.

What it must mean is we are covered with his medals. We are covered with his glory. We’re covered with all the awards and the medals of his valor and his cosmic bravery because he took on evil and he went down to death. All that he deserved is now on us. Here’s where the illustration doesn’t quite work because that old man basically was suddenly given all this … Even though he was condemned, they suddenly saw his medal, which he had won in a former life. In our case, the medals on us were won by Jesus in a former life.

Now the whole universe salutes us. Now God himself delights in us. We have become the righteousness of God in him. Now do you see the test? Do you see where the breakthrough comes? The first breakthrough is when you see it’s not advice but news. The second breakthrough is when you see it’s not just forgiveness, but it’s being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. It’s a righteousness from God given to me by a gift.

No wonder Luther said, “Oh my word! That’s incredible.” It is incredible. When you ask somebody (I do all the time), “Hey, are you a Christian?” and the person says, “Well, I’m trying,” that shows they have no idea about what Christianity is about because Christianity is a standing. We have access to this grace in which we stand. See? It means you have no idea about what it means to be a Christian. You’re still stuck back in the idea it’s good advice.

Some people say, “Well, I hate to call myself a Christian, because I don’t feel worthy of the name.” Of course you don’t feel good enough, but you’re in him if you understand the gospel. He is always good enough. He is utterly good enough. Covered with his medals. Covered with his trophies. Covered with his badges and banners and ribbons in glory.

You know, some people will say, “That’s interesting. I guess the Luther types, religious people … Gosh. He was a monk. How much more religious can you get than that? I guess there are people who are always filled with guilt and shame. They’re religious, and they need this. They need this idea.” No, it’s not just them. Oh no!

I have talked to an awful lot of people recently who have lost an awful lot of money. Do you know what? One of the things you can see (in fact, sometimes they tell me) is it was a lot more than money. They didn’t know. They didn’t know! There’s a disorientation at the center of their being. They’re not sure who they are. There’s a complete loss of identity. There’s a complete loss of confidence. Do you know why? Because that money was their righteousness.

See, irreligious people don’t use the word righteousness. As we said a couple of week ago when we were talking about Cain and Abel, no human being can assure themselves … We cannot assure ourselves of our value and worth. We have to get somebody outside approving us, acclaiming us, declaring us worthy, declaring us a people of value.

Some people do it through, “I want to look beautiful.” Some people say, “I want to make money.” Some people say, “I want to achieve.” Whatever. The fact is, everybody is desperately struggling for righteousness. Here’s the weird thing. Everybody’s righteousness, if it’s not God’s, is going to be blown away. Recession is one way, but it’s going to happen. Old age is another way. Everybody’s righteousness is going to blow away unless this is upon you.

The second breakthrough then that you see is not just forgiveness, wiping the slate clean, but getting the cosmic Medal of Honor. You know, being accepted in the beloved, having the righteousness of God put upon us in Jesus. Being legally righteous even when we’re actually unrighteous. We’ll see more about that. Thirdly, the last thing you have to do if you’re really going to understand and break through is you have to have a sense of …

3. The power of the gospel

Not just the form, not just the content, but the power. Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation …” I guess in my case, of all these … You know, even though it’s brief (verses 16 and 17 are brief), this is my favorite part of this nutshell.

Because, see, it’s not saying that the gospel brings the power of God or it results in the power of God or it’s a means to the power of God, does it? Well, no, it doesn’t. What does it say? It says the gospel is the power of God in verbal form. Therefore, when I believe it, when I hear it, when I understand it, when I grasp its propositions, its meanings, its words, to the degree that I actually get this gospel into my life, the power of God is coursing through me.

It is the power of God! Therefore, the way you know you’re beginning to understand the gospel and breaking through is instead of it just being a set of ideas, you begin to sense it being a power. How is that so? Well, here are a couple of ways. First of all, one of the ways you know you’re breaking through (or perhaps breaking through or have a chance of breaking through) is you feel its offensiveness.

Notice connected to this idea of the power of God, he says, “I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed of the gospel.” When you say something like that, “I am not ashamed of her. I am not ashamed of him. I am not ashamed of that,” that means there are whole lot of other people who are, or you wouldn’t have said that. Okay? There are a whole lot of other people who are offended or they think it’s crazy.

I want you to know everybody who hasn’t broken through or isn’t on the verge of breaking through thinks the gospel is crazy. Everybody! I’ve had two churches: one in a very blue collar, traditional, conservative place (a small southern town) and the opposite place. Here’s what’s so interesting. Everybody is offended by the gospel.

In Hopewell, Virginia, where I was pastor, everybody was hard working. They’re all religious. Even the atheists are Baptists. Everybody! I mean, even the atheists, the God they don’t believe in is the Baptist God. Everybody is religious. Everybody is very traditional. Everybody is hard working. Everybody is conservative. They’re offended by the gospel because they think it’s too easy.

I’ll never forget one of the first people I shared the gospel with was a woman. Right across the parking lot behind our church was a very broken down area. You know, rental property. Bad rental property, by the way. Trailers and things like that. There was a woman there. She was a very unhappy woman. Her name was Joy. In a southern town in the late 70s, she was divorced. She had two children. One was, I think, with no husband. One was with her former husband.

She was living essentially in poverty. She was a mess. She was disgraced. She was ashamed. We went in there. Three of us sat down, and we shared what I just shared with you, almost exactly the same thing. She couldn’t believe it. She said, “You mean, in spite of everything, he can accept me?”

I remember one of the things we talked about was I said, “Well, you know, if you really understand the gospel, that means the minute you believe in Christ and ask God to accept you because of what he has done, the minute your sins are put on him and his righteousness is put on you, God loves you and delights in you as much this very second as he will a billion years from now when you’re perfect and glorious and someone can’t even look at you without sunglasses. You see?” I said, “He won’t love you any more then than now, any less now than then.”

She couldn’t believe it. She cried. She thought it was the greatest thing. She embraced it. She believed it. A week later, we came back. You know, followup. We sat down. She was really upset because she had called her sister. Her sister was a very hard-working woman. She had a husband, three or four children. They were upstanding citizens. They went to church. They were good people.

When Joy called her older sister up and told her she was born again, she was saved, God loved her and all that, the sister said, “What are you talking about? It can’t be that easy. You have to work for this sort of thing. You have to work very hard, years of self-discipline, years of moral effort. I don’t know what kind of God that pastor is talking to you about, but I have no respect for him that he would just take somebody like you like that. It’s too easy.”

You see, it sounds really very dignified to say, “I can’t believe in a God. I have higher standards than that,” except do you know what? That sister had built her identity on being the good daughter, and Joy was the bad daughter. It was incredibly self-justifying to say, “It can’t be that easy.” You know, the gospel was in danger of destroying that wonderful dysfunctional family system in which Joy was the sick one. See?

So we had to go right back with the gospel. It did. I think it did. You see, in a traditional conservative culture, it’s too easy. Now we come up here where everybody is liberal and sophisticated and secular. Up here, it’s offensive not because it’s too easy but because it’s too simplistic. Here’s why. Because, you see, everything here is ambiguous and difficult. Nobody is sure.

See, we like philosophy here. We like ethics. We like discussions. Here are the pros and the cons. We get together, and we have discussions and forums. Everybody is a little bit right, and everybody is a little bit wrong. Nobody is really sure. Then we can go home and live anyway we want. It’s a great, great system, because who is to say. The clarity of the gospel, the absolute clarity of it, you know? They even like religion better because in it, you’re always trying, and you’re trying. You’re never quite sure whether you’ve done it. The clarity of it.

Here’s this first-century carpenter. He dies. Everything changes if you believe in that. You believe in that, and then you’re in. You don’t believe in that, and you’re out. Oh my gosh! The clarity of it! The simplicity of it! Don’t you see? Liberal or conservative, blue collar or white collar, north, south, east, west. The gospel is absolutely unique. It’s absolutely on its own. Everybody hates it. It makes absolutely no sense to anyone. It contradicts every system of thought in the world. It contradicts the heart of every culture in the world, every worldview.

It’s completely on its own. It offends everyone. See, whoever you are, you have to come from somewhere. You have to come from north or south or east or west or conservative or liberal. Something! You’re human beings. Therefore, unless you’ve felt the offense of the gospel, you don’t know yet what it even claims. Unless you’ve wrestled with it, struggled with it, you don’t even know what’s in it. You couldn’t know what’s in it.

When you begin to feel it and you begin to wrestle and struggle, then you at least have the possibility of breaking through. By the way, the gospel is not an academic thing. It’s not a set of bullet points we’re trying to get you to memorize. It’s from a person to a person. Therefore, it feels personal. When you’re really beginning to hear the gospel truly and understand the gospel, you start to sense there’s a power dealing with you, disturbing you, upsetting you. Maybe during this sermon, I hope. Maybe when you think about it or talk to a friend about it.

Do you find the gospel upsetting you, kind of dealing with you? Are you wrestling with it? Is it bothering you? I would rather somebody came to Redeemer for a couple of weeks and was so revolted that they had to leave. At least they were feeling the power rather than just saying, “Well, that’s interesting, but I don’t have much time for that.” Then you’re absolutely, absolutely in no position to ever have a breakthrough.

You have to feel the power of it. You have to feel the offensiveness of it. Here’s the other way in which is the power. Some people would say, “Well, all that matters, I suppose, is that you … Now that you’ve received the righteousness of Christ, that’s all that matters. Now you’re fine. It doesn’t matter how you live.” No, no, no, no, no. You know, what’s so amazing about Paul is he is able to get sound gospel theology everywhere.

Look at verse 7. “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints …” At the beginning of the memo: “To, From, Re:” He already has the gospel in there. Do you know why? He says, “What is a Christian?” “To all … who are loved by God and called to be saints …” Look at that. What is a Christian? Not primarily someone who is living in a certain way. The first is you’re loved by God. Your relationship has been changed. Something has been done to justify you.

You’re loved, but if you’re loved and if you know you’re loved, then you’re called. That means you’re invited. That means you’re attracted to be saints, which means to be holy. You never, ever, ever have the righteousness of God put upon you without, at the same time, finding it’s beginning to develop in you. You never, ever, ever, ever are loved by God in spite of your bad character without that starting to change your character.

You’re never justified except that you automatically begin to get sanctified. The righteousness of God will never be put upon you without it developed within you. If it’s not developed within you, then you haven’t really received it upon you. That’s the reason why Paul could look at Peter in Galatians 2, where Peter’s old racist sensibilities have begun to come back. He is not eating with Gentile Christians. He won’t even eat with them.

What does Paul say? Paul doesn’t say, “Peter, you broke the ‘no racism’ rule.” (Even though there is a ‘no racism’ rule; Christians shouldn’t be racist.) What he says is, “Peter, you say you’re justified by faith, not by works. You say you’re a sinner saved by grace. How can you be superior to any other race? You say you have the righteousness of Christ on you, but you’re not living in righteousness. Therefore, it’s not upon you if it’s not beginning to develop within you.”

If you are loved, then you are called, you’re attracted, into holiness. You want it. You long for it because, “I want to look like the One who did this for me. I want to please the One who did this for me.” If you don’t want to please, if you don’t want to look like the one who did this for you, then it’s still not personal. You really still don’t know what’s happened.

One of the great things I love about … There’s a passage in Matthew 11 where John the Baptist, in prison, about to be beheaded, sends some messengers to Jesus. The messengers say, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John the Baptist is doubting. I can understand why. You know, he declared Jesus the Messiah. He said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” but everything is going wrong. He is in prison.

“Wait a minute. You’re the Messiah, and I’m with you. I’m about to get my head chopped off. Are you really the one who is to come, or should we be looking for somebody else?” He is doubting. Jesus so nicely says, “Go back and tell John the Baptist, ‘The blind see … the poor have good news preached to them.’ ” He gives him some arguments why he is the Messiah. Then he says, “Say this to John: ‘And blessed is he who does not take offense at me.’ ”

What I loved about that is instead of Jesus saying, “How dare you question me! I’m the Messiah,” he says, “Let me give you some answers. I want you to know I am not offended by people who are struggling with my offensiveness. Good luck. Hope you get through it. It’s not very easy. I hope you get the blessedness of people who finally get through that offensiveness and break through.”

What a man. He is not offended that we struggle with his offensiveness. He is not at all upset about the fact that it’s hard. He says, “Here are some answers to questions. If you have any more, please come back.” What a Savior. What a man. Go to him. Let us pray.

Our Father, we thank you for the gospel. We thank you that we’re able to look these few weeks together at what Saint Paul has said that has changed so many lives. It’s changed mine. It’s changed so many here. We ask you would help us to break through. We ask you would help us to grasp the form, the content, and the power of the gospel in such a way that we do so that we, knowing we’re loved by you, sense your calling into a whole new life. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

ABOUT THE PREACHER

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Romans 1-7 For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

 
 

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Tim Keller: Sermon “A Tale of Two Cities” – Genesis 4:10-26

SERIES – Bible: The Whole Story—Creation and Fall – Part 5

Tim Keller preaching image

Preached in Manhattan, New York on February 1, 2009

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

23 Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” 25 Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.

In this series of sermons, we are trying to trace out the single storyline of the Bible. Each week we’ve started by saying the Bible is not primarily a disconnected set of little stories each with a moral, each with a lesson, on how to live. Primarily, it’s a single story telling us what’s wrong with the human race, what God has done about it, and how history is going to turn out in the end.

We’ve started by looking at the beginning of the biblical story, what’s wrong with us. The Bible continually tells us what’s wrong with us here in Genesis 1–4. We’re at the end of the section of Genesis. This particular part is neglected somewhat. It’s not preached on a great deal. There are a couple of reasons why. One of them is a question that bedevils the reader, at least the modern Western reader.

Here’s Adam and Eve, and they have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel. So there’s this young man (Cain) who’s run out into the world. He says, “Oh, I’m afraid now the people will attack me.” Who? “Cain lay with his wife …” Where did she come from? “Cain was then building a city …” Hmm. Populated by whom? If you take the text seriously and historically like I do (a lot of other people do), there are actually all sorts of possibilities, but here’s what I think would be helpful to help you be good readers of biblical narrative.

Biblical narrative is incredibly selective and spare. If you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together, you’re constantly surprised. Having read maybe an event or an incident in Mark, when you get to Luke, which will tell you about the same event, Luke will very often give you more details. You’ll see there was a lot more going on in that event than Mark told you about. Mark is very spare.

You’ll say, “Well, why didn’t Mark tell me there was another angel there, or this person was there, or someone was coming with that?” The answer is the reason why the biblical narrator (writer) doesn’t tell you all kinds of information that you sit there and want to know about is it doesn’t help him get his point across. The point of Genesis 4 is to teach us some things. If it doesn’t tell us things we want to know about, it’s because it’s not necessary in order to understand the point, the teaching, the truth.

So you just have to be a little bit willing to recognize the point of reading this text is to learn what the Lord, who is the ultimate author of every part of the Bible, wants to tell you. I don’t know where all these other people came from. However, here’s what we do learn. There are three very important things. They’re rather broad, but they’re extremely important. We learn here about the ruin of Cain, the culture of death, and the future city of grace. It’s very important. The ruin of Cain, the culture of death, and the future city of grace.

1. The ruin of Cain

Let’s start with the ruin of Cain. If you remember last week, when Cain kills his brother Abel, the first thing God says is, “Where is your brother Abel?” Not that God doesn’t know, but he asks Cain. Then Cain gives a very cold answer and says, “How do I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?” Ooh! “I’m not his nursemaid. Why ask me?” Now God comes back and says, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

That’s a strong statement. You would think when God says, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground,” the next thing he would do would be to smite him to the ground himself, to kill him, to take his blood. But as we see, God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t do it. God is doing absolutely everything he possibly can to give an opportunity for Cain to repent. That’s one of the things I think we’re supposed to get here.

God is doing everything so Cain can repent, giving him every bit of space, every opportunity. Why? Martin Luther has a great definition of sin. His definition of sin in Latin was, “homo incurvatus in se,” which means literally, “Sin is man curved in upon himself.” What Luther means by that (and this is absolutely right) is the Bible defines sin as always focusing on yourself, always choosing yourself over God or others, always placing yourself in the center. Always!

What that means is yes, of course you do bad things, but what’s brilliant about that and cutting and penetrating about this definition is sin determines that even when you do good things, even when you help the poor, even when you enter into friendships, even when you come to church and study the Bible and try to obey the Ten Commandments, it’s always about you. You always relate to God.

Sin determines you relate to God and other people only in such a way and only to the degree that it furthers your agenda, that things are going your way, that God or other people you’re relating to are doing things the way you think they should be done, as long as it gives you the self-image you want to have or you want to project. As soon as it becomes something that’s very costly, as soon as a relationship with God or other people is very costly, we’re out of it. Why?

Because even when it looks like we’re serving God and other people, we’re actually serving ourselves. That’s how insidious sin is. But repentance goes to the root of that. Repentance goes absolutely to the root of it. It means you get out of yourself. You take yourself out of the center, and you begin to get the favor of God, and you begin to heal the blindness and the hardness and the pride sin brings into your life.

Therefore, there is nothing more important than repentance. Nothing! Look what Cain does. Notice what he says? He is crying, in a way. You see? He said to the Lord … He cries out. He is upset. He is sorrowful. Maybe he is weeping. I don’t know. He says … What? “My punishment is more than I can bear.” Here’s the tragedy. There’s a kind of sorrow, there’s a kind of weeping (“Oh, I’m so sorry for what I’ve done”) that is just as self-absorbed, just as self-centered as the sin you’re crying about.

Notice he is not saying, “Oh, what it cost you, oh Lord, and your honor and glory. Oh, what it cost my brother Abel. Oh, I can’t bear the thought of my brother lying there in his own blood.” No. What he is saying is, “I’m really upset about what’s going to happen to me.” He is sorry for the consequences of the sin, not for the sin. He is obsessed with the cost to himself, not to God or other people. In other words, he is sorry for himself. He is not sorry for his sin.

There’s a kind of sorrow, a kind of apparent repentance, a kind of weeping and weeping over what you’ve done wrong, which actually makes you more self-centered and self-absorbed than ever. It makes it worse. This is the first point. We have to move, because these points are actually so broad and so important and yet we could talk about them forever. Here’s what this means.

If repentance is at the bottom of the ruin of the human race, if repentance was so important that God was giving Cain every opportunity, and if repentance is something so easy to miss and think you’re doing it when you’re not, then you should do everything to foster the skill of repentance in your life.

When people point a finger at you or come to you and say, “You’ve done this wrong,” what is our first instinct? What’s our first instinct? “What are you talking about? You don’t understand. What are you talking about? How dare you! You’re the one to talk!” Instead, the first thing our hearts should be saying is, “Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.”

If repentance is that important, that crucial and that slippery and that difficult, we should be a community of people who help each other repent, who do it very, very quickly, who are quick to say, “Well, here’s what I can say I did wrong.” At the heart of the ruin of the human race is the inability to repent. That’s the first point. It seems to go away, but we’ll get back actually to that.

2. The culture of death

The second point we learn about is sin doesn’t just ruin the individual life. It ruins the culture. It doesn’t just ruin our individual little lives; it ruins human society and culture. What we see here in the descendants of Cain from verses 17 on to the bottom is extremely telling. On the one hand, we see, even though human beings are sinful, they’re still in the image of God. Do you know why? They’re creating culture.

Let me scroll you back to Genesis 2. If you were here when we were in Genesis 2, we saw we are made in the image of God. That means we reflect God. Well, who do we reflect? We’re reflecting a creator God. Because we reflect a creator God in whose image we were made, we ourselves are creative. How does that work itself out? When God put Adam and Eve into the garden and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and have dominion,” gardening is neither leaving the ground as it is nor is it ruining it.

Gardening is creatively rearranging the raw material of the ground so as to bring about produce, to produce things, to produce food and flowers and other kinds of plants that help human beings flourish and grow and live. We’ve said that’s what culture is. Gardening is the kind of paradigm for what … What is culture? Culture-making is this. You take the stuff, the raw material, of the world, and you produce things for human life and flourishing.

So when you take the raw material of sound and human experience and you produce music and narrative, that’s the arts. When you take the raw material of the physical world, you produce technology and the sciences. When you take the biological raw material and rearrange it for human flourishing, that’s medicine and other things.

Even though Cain and his descendants are twisted by sin, they’re still producing culture. So you have down here animal husbandry in verse 20. You have harp and flute, music, in verse 21. We have technology, tools, bronze, and iron in verse 22. They’re producing culture, but this culture is now a culture of death.

See, originally when God put Adam and Even in the garden and he said, “Be fruitful and multiply and have dominion,” what he was actually saying was, “I want you to rearrange things. I want you to create a culture that supports life by producing products that serve people.” Life through service. That’s the meaning of culture, but look what we have here.

First of all, we have the culture of oppression and secondly, violence. Here’s oppression. Verse 19. “Lamech married two women …” Now Genesis 2:24 tells us the original plan was for a man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, not wives. That’s Genesis 2:24. So polygamy was not the design of marriage at all. All through the rest of the Bible, pretty much all you have is polygamy.

Robert Alter, the great Jewish expert on biblical literature says if you know how to read the book of Genesis, you will know that one of the main subtexts of the book of Genesis … If you read all through the stories from here down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc., one of the main subtexts and, therefore, one of the main points of the book of Genesis is polygamy is an absolute disaster.

If you don’t see that from reading the book of Genesis, Robert Alter says you just don’t know how to read a text. It is a disaster for everybody involved, but especially for the women who, by definition, are disempowered. They’re oppressed. What we have is cultural forms that now lead to oppression here.

That’s not all. Down here it says, “Lamech said to his wives, ‘… listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.’ ” Oh my word. Look at this. First of all, the word wound and injured is the word for bruise. Just bruise, scratch. The word for young man is actually best translated lad. It means a boy or, at best, an adolescent.

Lamech is boasting that if even a kid scratches or bruises him he’ll take his head off, literally. When he says, “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times,” seven was a symbolic number of perfection. Therefore, to say, “I will be avenged 77 times,” 7 times 70 or 77 times (depending on how you translate it; it’s actually hard to translate), what Lamech is trying to say is, “I will never give up revenge. I will never lay aside my anger. I will never, ever, ever forgive anybody for ever wronging me.”

He is boasting about it, and he is proud. Look at the violence, and look at the pride. This is not, “My life to serve you,” which is the whole idea behind gardening, but, “Your life to serve me.” It’s amazing, and it’s violent. What you have here is the human culture is twisted by sin. You no longer have a culture based on life through service, on power and exploitation. The other thing we see (and this is very important to recognize) is the culture flows out of the city.

The very, very first time the word city is used anywhere in the Bible (and therefore, the first time it’s actually mentioned in history) is in verse 17. “Cain lay with his wife …” He began to produce progeny. “Cain was then building a city …” Now this Hebrew word city does not mean a place filled with lots and lots of people. When you and I think of city versus town or village, we think of numbers.

The word city meant a fortified settlement. It’s extremely important to understand that culture begins to develop. The first time the Bible talks about human culture, the first time the human culture begins to develop … The thing God told Adam and Eve to do is build (develop) culture, civilization. The first time it develops is after a city is built.

Henri Blocher, the French Christian scholar, says something like, “It is no doubt significant that in Genesis 4, progress in the arts and engineering comes from the city of the Canaanites. Nevertheless, we are not to conclude from this that civilization, as such, is the fruit of sin. Such a conclusion would lead us to the views of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The Bible condemns neither the city, for it concludes all history with the vision of the city of God, nor art and engineering.”

What’s Blocher saying? Why did he bring in Rousseau? Here’s why he brought in Rousseau. In the eighteenth century, Rousseau and the romanticists tried to understand why there was so much violence and oppression in the world. They decided to blame the city. What they said is, “Human beings, human nature, is basically pristine and beautiful and wonderful and good, but society teaches people to be violent and selfish.”

Therefore, the idea of Rousseau and the romanticists was that savages, actually, natives, people away from cities, would be much more likely to be good and peace loving. Benjamin Franklin, being the very cagey man he was, was trying to get during the Revolutionary War … He went to Paris to do diplomacy, trying to get the French on our side. He was very, very careful to wear coonskin caps and rather hairy breeches.

In other words, he tried very hard to look like a savage or a native to make sure people thought there would be some more virtue here. Of course, we all know now … everybody knows now … that what Rousseau said there was an absolute crock. Cities are not necessarily places of more savagery than native tribes in the bush or the wilderness. That’s just not true at all.

Many scholars have pointed out the romanticists’ idea that somehow cities are breeders of sinful behavior and people who live in the country are more virtuous is actually something that’s been passed into the American psyche and actually into the American Christian psyche so that we have a tendency to have a very negative view of cities. The Bible does not have a negative view of cities at all. At all!

When God sends the people of Israel from Egypt into Canaan, he will not let them be exclusively agrarian. He commands them to build cities in the book of Numbers. When God sends the people of Israel out into exile in Babylon, that pagan, awful city that actually took them prisoner (and they were prisoners), what does he say? He says, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city. Pray for it. Love it. Care for it. Make it a good place to live.”

When God sends Jonah, his prophet, to the big, bad pagan city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the greatest city in the world at the time, at the very end, he looks at Jonah, and he says, “Look at 120,000 people who don’t know their right hand from their left. I love the city. How could you not love a city that size with all those needy people? Why don’t you love the city?”

Of course, the most amazing thing of all is that when you get to the end of the book of Revelation, the end of history … Actually, we’re going to go there at the end of this series. When God has the world in the condition he wants it in, when he finally has the world exactly the way he wants it, it looks a lot like New York, without the graffiti and a few other things. It’s a city!

The Bible is amazingly positive about cities. Why? The reason it’s positive about cities is that when God made Adam and Eve creative, when he made them creative, it was inevitable that they would build cities. Cities are places of creativity. Cities are places where culture is forged. That’s the reason why culture does not begin to happen until there’s a city. Why? Well, I can give you a historical reason, but I can also give you a logical reason.

The historical reason is, the fact is, a city was any settlement with a wall. That wall created stability. It was out there when somebody did something wrong, people just did blood feuds back and forth, and they killed each other back and forth. They revenged each other. It was in the city you had jurisprudence. It was in the city you could have cases heard by judges, and things could be dealt peacefully. You could have rule of law develop.

Out there, it was subsistence living. You made your own clothes. You grew your own food. You did everything. In cities, some people are better at making tools. Some people are better at making food. Some people are better at making clothes. Now you have an economy. You have specialization. You have goods and services.

It’s not the size of the settlement but the stability of it. It was in cities that human culture was able to develop at all. You say, “Well, that’s fine now. We don’t need a wall. We don’t have walls around cities. Where there are walls, they’re great tourist attractions, but we don’t do that anymore. We don’t need that. Cities aren’t important for culture anymore.”

Oh yes, they are. They’re still the places, by their nature, from which culture flows. So as cities go, so goes the culture. You say, “Why?” Well, because cities are places of density and diversity. Cities are places where there are more people like you than anywhere else and also more people unlike you than anywhere else.

For example, let me show you how it works on culture. First of all, there are more people like you than anywhere else. Let’s just say you’re a violinist, and you’re the best violinist in the state of (pick a state). You won the state competition. You’re the best. You get off the train in Penn Station or Grand Central Station. To your horror, you walk by some person playing the violin on the platform. People are throwing money into the little violin case.

She is better than you. You go, “Oh no.” You start to practice, and you dig down deep. Everybody feels that way. Cities are places of masses, zillions of people like you, more people like you than anywhere else. That makes you dig down deep. It’s also true that cities are places of more people unlike you than anywhere else. There is a diversity here you’ll never see anywhere else. You’ll meet people you never otherwise would have met unless you went to a city.

As a result, you’re questioned. Everything you do is questioned. Everything you do, you have to compare and contrast. It makes you think creative thoughts you never would have had otherwise. Many of the things you came here thinking you were going to do, you continue to do, but only after you’ve done a lot more thinking about them now because you’re in cities.

Because of the density and because of the diversity, because of the zillions of people like you and the zillions of people unlike you, this is a crucible. This is a furnace out of which flow new and creative and innovative ideas. This is the result. What comes out of the city goes out into the culture. As a city goes, so goes the culture.

Yet cities are affected by sin. The density, the fact there are so many more people like you here competing with you, should be stimulation. It is stimulant. It’s great. Because of sin, it’s also exhausting. It’s dog-eat-dog, and it leads to burnout. The diversity (all the people who are very different than you) should be a stimulation to creativity, but … It is, but it’s also a place of constant conflict and fighting and division.

Most of all, at the heart of cities is a battle. Will the culture be a culture in which we make products, supporting life to serve others, or basically we’re doing our work, we’re making our products, we’re working in the city, and we’re creating culture to make a name for ourselves, to get our own glory, to accrue power, and to exploit other people? Is human culture mainly my life to serve yours or your life to serve me? That leads us to our final point.

It’s very hard to live in cities without being sucked into the culture of power, being sucked into burnout, being sucked into conflict. How are you going to get the strength to be in the city? By the way, if you want to make a difference in society, if you want to just have a happy life, you probably don’t want to be here because of … what? Because of the competition. Because of the conflict. Because of the density and diversity.

If you want to make a difference in society, if you want to make a difference in how human life goes, then you ought to be in cities. Yet it takes a tremendous power to avoid being sucked in, as it were. It takes tremendous spiritual power and poise to not be sucked in to the poisonous distorted heart of human culture, especially as it’s taking effect in cities. How do you get that power?

3. The future city of grace. Lastly, there is a future city of grace God is developing. How do we know that? Well, at the very, very end of this chapter, it says, “Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel …’ Seth also had a son …” See, a new line. “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.”

The word name comes up twice in this text. When Cain built a city, he named it not after God (like Jerusalem or something like that, the city of God, it’s the Lord’s peace). He didn’t name it after God. He named it after his own son. In Genesis 11, the culmination of the line of the Canaanites built the tower of Babel, which is a skyscraper, which is a city. The reason why the Canaanites built this great city of Babel was to make a name for themselves.

Genesis 11:4. “… make a name for ourselves …” That’s what’s wrong with cities. That’s what’s wrong with culture. When you do work to make a name for yourself, when you go to cities to make a name for yourself … That’s, by the way, why almost everybody comes to New York. When work is really about you, not about producing products for human flourishing, when sex is really about you, not to enter into a relationship in which you serve and you form a family and you bring about children and human flourishing …

When it’s about you, when it’s to get a name for yourself, it creates the culture of death. The city is producing a culture of death. There’s a new line of people that God begins. They’re not there to make a name for themselves but to call on the name of the Lord, to live life for God’s sake, and to live life for their neighbor’s sake. That produces two kinds of societies: one based on power, one based on service. One based on making a name for themselves, and one saying, “All I want to do is honor the Lord’s name. I want to have his name put on me. I want to be like him.”

That’s pretty fascinating. Where do these two groups of people live? Well, they actually live in the same place, because Jesus says in his famous Sermon on the Mount to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. You are a city on the hill. Let your good works so shine that the pagans see them and glorify your Father.” What Jesus Christ is saying there is that the line of Seth, the believers in God, and then eventually the believers in Christ are supposed to be an alternate city in every city.

We’re supposed to create a human society in which we’re calling on the name of the Lord rather than trying to make a name for ourselves, in which case that it will transform everything: the way sex is used, the way money is used, the way power relationships are brought about, the way families work, the way business practices are conducted, the way we spend our money. Everything!

Jesus says, “I want you to be a city on a hill,” which means, “I want the city around you to see your good deeds.” Good deeds doesn’t just mean rectitude. It means service. In other words, the way you know you’re part of the line of Seth, the way you know you’re part of the city based on grace, the city of people calling on the name of the Lord, is whereas the city of Cain outside is suspicious of you because you don’t have the right beliefs …

But you inside the city love the people around you, even though they don’t believe at all like you do. You go to the mat for them. You sacrifice for them. See, that’s what God said in Jeremiah 29 when he says, “Yes, that city oppressed you. Yes, that city persecuted you. Yes, that city will persecute you, but I want you to live in love and service toward them.”

How do you get the power to do that? Do you know what this is actually saying? Because actually in 1 Peter, this same thing is said that Jesus says, only he is even more explicit. He says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

It doesn’t mean they might accuse you of doing wrong. They will! Jesus and Peter are saying if you want to be part of God’s city of grace, the alternate city in every city, the city based on the name of God instead of making your own name, the city based on life through service not death through power, then you are going to be constantly misunderstood. If we live the life we should in New York City, pouring ourselves out to make this a great place, we expect to be persecuted.

That is to say we expect at certain points to be misunderstood, vilified, maybe even attacked. We’re not going to get upset about it because we were told that’s part of what it means to not be part of the city of man, to not be part of the city of Cain, to not marginalize and use power over our opponents but basically serve them the way Christ served us. Where do you get the power to do that? Where do you get this power we’re supposed to have so we’re not sucked into the ways of the world?

Here. When Lamech at the end of his poem, his song, says, “… Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times” (or 70 times 7), does that remind you of anything? When the disciples asked Jesus, “How often do we have to forgive?” he said, “Not just 7 times but 70 times 7.” They said, “Lord, how could we get the grace and the power to forgive people infinitely?” Do you know what Jesus was doing? He was remembering the taunt of Lamech, and he was reversing it.

You see, Lamech was saying, “Endless anger. I will never, never let go of my anger. I will never let go of my anger. I will always hold my anger. Endless anger. Endless revenge.” Do you know what Jesus is saying? The endless anger of human sin will be met by the endless love of God. Jesus is saying Lamech, though he had no right, said he would never let go of his anger. He would be endlessly revenging.

Do you know what Jesus is saying? “I, the Lord, am the only one who has the right to say that. I have the right to be endlessly angry at the human race, but I won’t be. I’m going to be as merciful to you as to Cain.” One of the most interesting things … Nobody knows what the mark of Cain is. Okay, there we go. Biblical selectivity again.

Cain says, “I’m so upset.” He is not repenting. “I’m upset. Somebody is going to hurt me.” What does God do? He puts a mark on Cain. That mark somehow protects him. We have no idea what it is. Was it a tattoo? What was it? Was it a little dog? “Mark, sic ‘em. Get him!” No. Nobody knows. One commentator actually said that. “Maybe it was a dog named Mark.” You can’t follow all the commentaries.

All we know is that though Cain deserved to be smitten to the ground, he got mercy. How can a just God be merciful to Cain? How can a just God say, “I will be endlessly forgiving to you,” very much the opposite of what Lamech said? How can God give us endless love and mercy here? Because the three things Cain says are going to fall on him actually fell on Jesus. Do you see what those three things are?

It’s up here in verse 14. “I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Who was the restless wanderer on the earth? Jesus said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” “… whoever finds me will kill me.” Yes, in the garden they found him, and they took him to the cross and killed him. On the cross, he even lost the presence of God. “My God, my God. Why hast thou forsaken me?”

There’s the answer, first of all, how a just God can be merciful. Because God came to earth in Jesus Christ, and he took the curse that really should fall on us. See, curses came, and then he marks them for mercy because the real curse fell on Jesus and on God himself so the blessing could come to us. That’s how he can do it.

When you know that, when you know he did all that for you, that means you no longer have to prove yourself or make a name for yourself. When you get baptized, we put the name of the Lord on you. That means work now is just about work. It’s not about getting a name for myself. Sex is just a way of saying, “I love you” to the person you’re married to.

In other words, these things now become ways of serving others instead of ways of making a name for yourself. Now you’re part of the city of God by grace. Do you know where it all starts? Do you know how you can more and more make yourself a person who is really living like a citizen of the city of God instead of the city of man? Repent. Repent every time somebody gives you the opportunity. Repent, and you won’t be ruined. You’ll be restored and made a citizen.

Savior, if of Zion’s city,

I through grace a member am,

Let the world deride or pity,

I will glory in thy name.

Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,

All his boasted pomp and show;

Solid joys and lasting treasure

None but Zion’s children know.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we thank you that you have given us citizenship in your city. We sit down now at your Table. We’re in your family. We’re members of your city. We pray you would show us what it means to live lives in accordance with these great truths of the gospel. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray, amen.

 

ABOUT THE PREACHER

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Romans 1-7 For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

 

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