All posts by dax

Real Change For Those In Christ

Change is a funny thing. It is hard for most people. We like predictability, really. Too many sudden alterations in the landscape can make us uneasy, make us feel unsafe.

But that’s not true of our desire to see ourselves change. Almost everyone has something they’d like changed, internal or external to them. And we are really good at pointing out how other people should change.

We bring our expectations of change into our Christian living. We desire to be stronger, to improve, to be better. We see the amazing example of Jesus, we hear the commands of the Bible, and we expect to see change. We logically think there really should, over time, be a difference, a movement toward the instructions given, especially in the New Testament.

Take, for example, simple commands like “rejoice always” or “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:4-6). We read and agree that we should rejoice, and we should not be anxious. But we also see that we are not fulfilling those commands. So we begin to plan out how to accomplish these commands given by God.

Our impulse is, naturally, to progress toward the fulfillment of the command. We know we don’t rejoice always, but we think it is reasonable to expect to rejoice more this week than last week. We do fall into anxiety, but are encouraged if it is not as often this year as last. To get closer to the goal, which is actual personal obedience to the command, is the measurable. The delta between us and perfection should be decreasing, and this is the change that we begin to measure. Change in the Christian life becomes a measure of how we are moving toward completion of the commands we find.

We often get discouraged when looking at others. They seem closer to fulfilling these commands than we are. We take comfort that what is needed, what is measured by God, isn’t actually accomplishing, but showing signs of improving. So if we start from a very low place, our movement towards more behavioral obedience might be more remarkable, really, than someone who already rejoices a lot and just improves a smidge.

Regardless of how far we get, this becomes for many people the objective of the Christian life. This kind of change.

You probably can tell by now that I’m troubled by this approach.

My discomfort is not in the beauty of the command. I long to love like Jesus loved. I see the beauty and goodness of rejoicing always. I see the practical beneficial effects on my life that being anxious for nothing would bring. Oh, how much time I’ve wasted in worry!

Here’s my difficulty, and it is twofold. First, this approach takes the command and lowers it. What we measure is not whether we are obedient, but how close to obedience we come. Does it matter if I rejoice thirty percent of the time, or fifty percent of the time, if the command is to rejoice always? In fact, we are quick to take heart when we appear to be improving, but we actually are never obedient to the given command. We never actually do what the Bible is commanding, and yet we act (and even think?) like we are doing it.

That’s a problem, but there’s a more fundamental difficulty. Our focus is on our behavioral change, and that’s not what has changed in us. I mean, all well and good that some change happens behaviorally, but I’m thinking it is neither promised nor foundational.

The change we need is the change that has already happened to us who believe. My hope has changed. Where I was self-oriented, self-righteous, self-justifying, self-hoping, wanting to see myself be the hero, now I trust Jesus. I trust in his work, his blood, his death, his righteousness, his life for me. This is the change the Bible actually accounts to us.

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). That’s a statement of something that has already changed, without further measurement.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). This refers to a fundamental change, I think. This change has happened, rather than being something I work toward. The work is to trust that it is true.

What has changed is that, by faith, I have died. I don’t live a life of measured self-improvement or progress, personally, toward some partial obedience. I trust in the perfect righteousness of Christ and his obedience that I partake in by faith. I live in him. I have his righteousness, his holiness, and have been promised his resurrection. Putting my trust in this promise is a huge, monumental, fundamental, seismic change. It is out of this change, this death to life, that my perspective shifts, my viewpoint is forever altered.

Death to life has occurred, says Paul, and while it is true I will certainly (and gladly) see the effects of it here, they are in reality spotty and intermittent. The commands of the Bible continue to push us not to our own behavioral perfecting but towards seeing our own failure, towards dependence on the only one who ever really did obey to the standard required. The one we live in union with. Jesus.

There is a reason why faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I see my small improvements, here and there, behavioral alterations that may or may not spring from faith. But I don’t see the major change, which is death to life, resurrection accomplished, by the power of Jesus Christ alone. Assuredly, convincingly ours, not seen but trusted in. May we walk by faith in the assurance of change.

 

J. Gresham Machen on the Law

“The truth of Christianity cannot be established by the intellect unless an important part of the argument is based upon the fact of sin which is revealed by the law of God; the beauty of Jesus, which attracts the gaze of men, cannot be appreciated without a knowledge of the holiness upon which it is based; the companionship of Jesus is possible only to those who say first, in deep contrition; ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’; the example of Jesus is powerless to those who are in the bondage of evil habit, and it is not even a perfect example unless He be the divine Redeemer that He claimed to be. The true schoolmaster to bring men to Christ is found, therefore, now and always in the law of God— the law of God that gives to men the consciousness of sin.

A new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens. Mr. Legality has indeed in our day disguised himself somewhat, but he is the same deceiver as the one of whom Bunyan wrote.

‘Making Christ Master’ in the life, putting into practice ‘the principles of Christ’ by one’s own efforts these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s own obedience to God’s commands. And they are undertaken because of a lax view of what those commands are. So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace.”

(J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, p. 141-142)

h/t monergism.com

Remember That Time When…

You remember that time when Jesus was asked what was the great commandment in the Law?

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So there it is. Love God, love your neighbor. If you browse through various evangelical churches online, you’ll find these two commands echoed, over and over, as themes and purpose and mission. Love God, love people.

You’ll hear sermons on how we need to love God more, and love people more. Ten ways to increase your love of God, three practical steps to love people.

Yet if you’re honest with the context, Jesus is very specific in what he is laying out: law. Law, in the sense that you are not affirmed by it. It isn’t what you accomplish. The Bible clearly says that no human being anywhere will be accounted good in the sight of God by doing law. Law doesn’t give you something to accomplish. It stops you. Law exists to show sin.

So how in the world has this become the mission statement for churches? “We are on mission to accomplish the law?” What?

Confusion, that’s what we’re fighting. And the confusion is over what our mission really is. Our mission is not to accomplish the law, and we are not enabled to do so. We affirm it’s truth, we affirm our Savior’s commands as right and true. But they don’t strengthen us, these statements of law. They reveal our weakness.

And this is the way of the cross. This is the way of salvation. To hear the law, and die. And to see our savior, and live. When Jesus gives a new command, to love as he has loved, we see yet again that we cannot love as he loved. And we marvel that he does love in spite of our undeservedness. We are left with trusting that he has loved us totally and completely, shown on the cross, continuing to this day.

We hear the good news that he has done everything we need, that the work is finished, that we are secure. And we believe it. That’s faith. We grab hold of the word of God’s love even though we see our ugliness. Gratitude and wonder and amazement, they are ours. Not because we have done anything, but because we haven’t. We’ve received the gift.

The law is beautiful and good. And it always condemns.  And to the heart that is broken, there is another word. The word of the gospel.  We receive the body broken and the blood spilled. We hear the news from a distant land. We who ought but don’t, receive a love undeserved, more than we could imagine.

So please don’t make the church’s mission to fulfill the law. Except as an exposure that we don’t. We are more broken than we know, and the law helps us know more. And we are more loved than we can comprehend, which is what we always need to hear. Thank you Jesus.

More than a Babe

Every birth of a baby is miraculous. To see new life enter the world, eyes opening and first breaths taken, there is something magical and wondrous in it.

How much more the arrival of Jesus. I’m not thinking of the virgin birth, or the announcement to the shepherds, or the manger scene. Those are all marvelous in their own way. I’m thinking of more. I’m thinking of who Jesus is.

Christmas isn’t about a particular day, or the general wonder of new life born. We worship in awe because this particular child was born. The Bible is a cacophony of sound about this child. In fact, in a very real way, the Word is this child.

Hundreds of years before his birth, he is prophesied to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), to be the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:5), to establish David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:16). The government will be on his shoulders, this child who will be called “prince of peace” and “everlasting God” (Isaiah 9:6). And that’s just getting started.

Image after image, story after story in the Old Testament proclaims he is coming. The new Adam, the better Moses, the true Passover lamb. He is the Joshua that will come, the kinsman redeemer, the King in the line of David, the Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. He’s God and man, united. Quite literally.

Jesus is the beginning and the end. He’s all of time united, the alpha and omega.

Jesus brings together heaven and earth. He even tells Nathaniel that there are angels ascending and descending, like Jacob’s ladder, on him (John 1:51).

Jesus will go into death to bring forth life. He is the light in the darkness, the living one, the breaker of walls and kingdoms.

Whether you are energized by the Christmas season, or ready to be done with songs played a hundred times since Thanksgiving, there’s no way we could ever get to the bottom of the depths of what he’s done, the wonder of who he is. This is who loves us. This incredible God who came, this man who died, this one who lives forever. If you live a full life, you will only celebrate it on earth 80 or 90 times. It’s not enough. He is more, of everything, to us, than we can ever imagine.

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). This is our Jesus.

A Future

We are overwhelmed with blessings. Personally, I am grateful for my wife, my kids, my health. I’m surrounded by beauty. I love rain, and we get lots of it. I rarely eat the same food two meals in a row. I attend a church where the gospel is the main thing. I drive a car, have a cellphone, get to study the Bible. This isn’t at all exhaustive… I could go on and on.

Even as I list out personal blessings, I realize that you may be reading this and have an entirely different experience than me. You might have none of the things I list. You may have others I don’t.

And the truth is, any of these blessings could be lost in a heartbeat. Cancer strikes, and a loved one is lost. Health crumbles. Cellphones get dropped. Money gets tight.

So it is critical, I think, that we identify what our inheritance is.

When Peter writes that we are “kept by God for an inheritance” in 1 Peter 1:4, he’s not referring to these temporal blessings, this passing earth. He’s speaking of something greater. And most importantly, something imperishable, unfading, unable to be lost, secure forever.

We get to be with Christ forever. We get to dwell with God forever. He’s made a place for us forever. This is our inheritance. This is what is reserved for us. We’re like the Levites, who didn’t get a piece of the promised land, because God himself was their inheritance (Joshua 15:33).

Acknowledging a future inheritance isn’t hard for us, generally. Heaven is coming, and it will be better than here. What is hard for us is understanding the security of our inheritance.

No matter what happens here, we have a future and a hope that is secure.

I struggle with this because I see my own failings. I don’t avoid sin as I ought. I am lazy. I get frustrated. I am not proactive. I am prideful. Shouldn’t then I think my inheritance is on shaky ground?

The answer is a shouted, firm “no!”. And it is no because of what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t just rescue me from sin and get me started on the road to my inheritance. Jesus secured my inheritance on the cross. Jesus didn’t wipe the slate clean, he clothed me in his righteousness. The cross proclaims the great exchange–Jesus actually became sin. My sin. So that I get righteousness. His righteousness.

The cross proclaims the greatest mystery known to man. By simply receiving Jesus, simply trusting in Jesus, I have a secure inheritance. Which is just another way of saying that I’ve been adopted forever. I’ve been put in union with Christ. I’ve been redeemed. I’ve been given his righteousness. I’ve been justified and sanctified by what Jesus has done. I’m awaiting the fulfillment of the promise, glorification, when I get to see what now I don’t see.

The life of Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, they proclaim to me what I need to remember every day. That my temporal blessings are not my inheritance. Jesus is my inheritance. He loves me. And he will be with me forever, because of what he has done.

Take Me Back To The Cross

We are overwhelmed with blessings. Personally, I am grateful for my wife, my kids, my health. I’m surrounded by beauty. I love rain, and we get lots of it. I rarely eat the same food two meals in a row. I attend a church where the gospel is the main thing. I drive a car, have a cellphone, get to study the Bible. This isn’t at all exhaustive… I could go on and on.

Even as I list out personal blessings, I realize that you may be reading this and have an entirely different experience than me. You might have none of the things I list. You may have others I don’t.

And the truth is, any of these blessings could be lost in a heartbeat. Cancer strikes, and a loved one is lost. Health crumbles. Cellphones get dropped. Money gets tight.

So it is critical, I think, that we identify what our inheritance is.

When Peter writes that we are “kept by God for an inheritance” in 1 Peter 1:4, he’s not referring to these temporal blessings, this passing earth. He’s speaking of something greater. And most importantly, something imperishable, unfading, unable to be lost, secure forever.

We get to be with Christ forever. We get to dwell with God forever. He’s made a place for us forever. This is our inheritance. This is what is reserved for us. We’re like the Levites, who didn’t get a piece of the promised land, because God himself was their inheritance (Joshua 15:33).

Acknowledging a future inheritance isn’t hard for us, generally. Heaven is coming, and it will be better than here. What is hard for us is understanding the security of our inheritance.

No matter what happens here, we have a future and a hope that is secure.

I struggle with this because I see my own failings. I don’t avoid sin as I ought. I am lazy. I get frustrated. I am not proactive. I am prideful. Shouldn’t then I think my inheritance is on shaky ground?

The answer is a shouted, firm “no!”. And it is no because of what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t just rescue me from sin and get me started on the road to my inheritance. Jesus secured my inheritance on the cross. Jesus didn’t wipe the slate clean, he clothed me in his righteousness. The cross proclaims the great exchange–Jesus actually became sin. My sin. So that I get righteousness. His righteousness.

The cross proclaims the greatest mystery known to man. By simply receiving Jesus, simply trusting in Jesus, I have a secure inheritance. Which is just another way of saying that I’ve been adopted forever. I’ve been put in union with Christ. I’ve been redeemed. I’ve been given his righteousness. I’ve been justified and sanctified by what Jesus has done. I’m awaiting the fulfillment of the promise, glorification, when I get to see what now I don’t see.

The life of Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, they proclaim to me what I need to remember every day. That my temporal blessings are not my inheritance. Jesus is my inheritance. He loves me. And he will be with me forever, because of what he has done.

The Riches of Your Great Grace

To speak of the riches of God’s great grace is to look into the gospel. If you read this, if you experience this song, then you too enter into the amazing riches of his great grace: not just what he has done, but the wonder that this grace extends to you.

I mean, what he’s done can’t be exhausted by words. God’s everlasting mighty love, poured out on us in the person of Jesus. His life. His sacrifice. His suffering. His conquering of sin and death. His blood that purchased our salvation.

All of these truths are framed by one that this song highlights: first, that we get to even know it; second, that we get to experience it.

We, that’s you and me. We, lost and without hope. We, strangers and far away from the promises of God. We, weak not strong, broken not whole, rebels not humble, ugly and wicked and dead.  Dead because we were dead-set on our own striving to earn heaven, our own effort to obtain what can never be obtained by us.

To sing this song is to enter into the wonder that God went outside the camp. Jesus touched lepers and the blind and the weak and the lost. And in that group were you and me. Plagued, unseeing, debilitated, bewildered, entirely unworthy, even dead without him.

So let the gospel be the song we sing. The good news that the work is finished, the victory accomplished, totally outside of us—and yet including us.

Thus we call ourselves children, his holy church, victorious, righteous, with God as our portion and our strength.

May we never forget our humble state in ourselves, or the great grace by which we, together, stand. As we praise the one who freely gave, that we might live in him.

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

We Will Stand

Everybody lives out of some sort of hope. Hope for a better life. Hope that our lives will have meaning. Hope that kids will have success. Hope that we will have enough for when we are old. Hope for friends or family or recognition.

Too often what we’ve been trained to do is to pray to God to help us attain what our hope is. We see Jesus as a powerful helper. With his help, we reason, we can get to where we are supposed to be, we can attain what our desires are.

This song stands against seeing Jesus as a helper to attain your hopes. It proclaims that Jesus is our hope. He is our rock, our foundation, our solid ground. Our life is out of the hope we have in Christ, not toward a hope that Christ helps us attain.

Our hope in Christ is life-changing because it is based on his finished work, in all he’s done. Our hope is that we are significant, we have value and meaning and purpose in his finished work, not in ours. So our other hopes, over time and dwelling in the gospel, become lesser, dimmer, not identity crushing.

We stand, but we stand on Christ. That standing isn’t to a greater work or a more important purpose, it is rather a glorious affirmation that our lives are already on the rock, already wholly blessed, already being used by God.

Jesus isn’t the wood by which we build the boat; he is the boat. He isn’t the sand by which we make sandbags to hold out the flood, he is the rock that keeps the flood away. He isn’t the coach pushing us to improve, he’s the athlete who has won it all and gives us the prize. He is our hope when all other hopes are gone, the hope that is founded on his unshakable faithful love.

If you have been broken, if you aren’t sure you can stand, this song is for you. We will stand. Because of the Promised One who loves us and never fails.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has called us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. “ (1 Peter 1:3).

Supernatural

God who made the world and all in it exists as a trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. The Bible says that the entire universe is upheld, moment by moment, by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). This God is over all beings, visible and invisible, and there is more going on that is not seen than that which is seen.

The Son became human, Jesus Christ, who is fully man and fully God. What Jesus did on the cross echoes into all the universe, defeating spiritual powers and principalities we have never seen. These are our enemies, these invisible spiritual powers. I’m not pulling that out of thin air; the Bible says that in Ephesians 6:12.

I can barely understand this, because I am such a product of Western culture. I think tomorrow will be just like today, and that there are rational, understandable answers to everything. Our whole scientific worldview is based on the world following certain observable laws. I read 2 Peter 3:5-7, but I am still a product of my rationalistic worldview.

Did you know that in 2037, high tide in Bellingham will be at 9:32 am? I looked that up, I didn’t calculate it myself. But the calculations are based on science. Observations about how the earth rotates around the sun, and the moon around the earth.

Electricity, the combustion engine, telephones, open heart surgery, you name it. All based on observational cause-and-effect scientific rationalism. We lean on this every single day. Every time we turn on a light switch. Every time we drive a car.

The reality of the supernatural challenges our suppositions, makes it clear that we are choosing to believe against the world. Against relying on what we can see and touch. That there is a God who is not able to be put into a box. That he does not bow to universal laws. He is above, beyond, and enters into our world in a way that is supernatural.

Our hope is in his supernatural salvation, in the battle he wins with powers way beyond our knowledge, beyond even our ability to see. Only Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven; we trust what he says, not what we see (Luke 10:18).

The supernatural humbles us. Because we are not in control. Because we are believing in things we can’t see, let alone influence. Because we are totally dependent, from our very first breath until our last, on the kindness of God.

We are nothing. He is everything. What a wonder that we have value in his eyes, that we experience both his power and his love in the cross of Jesus. Come, put your hope in this supernatural God.

All This For Us

The cross stands alone.

There were other points, at other times, where the redemptive plan of God peeked through our bondage to sin. God’s admonition to Cain. His preservation of Noah. His covenant with Abraham. Deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea. The Law and tabernacle. The giving of Canaan and removal of the Nephilim, when God fought for Israel. Cycles of salvation in Judges. David. Preservation of a remnant of Israel. The rebuilding of the temple.

But the cross stands alone.

On it was Jesus. God’s unique son. Fully God, fully man. Sinless. Perfect. And on that cross, a sacrifice for you and for me. He took the curse, the full weight of sin, upon his sinless shoulders, and atoned.

He cried out, from Psalm 22, “it is finished.” His work was the answer, the final work, the finished work. His sacrifice paid it all. In his death—and the life that preceded it, and the resurrection that followed—is our redemption and rescue and salvation.

His cross does not simply proclaim rescue from sin and death. It proclaims life. It provides our way back, our restoration, our sanctification as well as our justification, because in the work of Jesus is our entire hope.

Our identification with this Savior, on this cross, is our life. We have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. And the life we now live in the flesh we live by trusting this Son of God, Jesus, who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

In power, in finality, and most amazingly in love, the cross stands alone.

Can’t wait to meet our Savior face to face, who for love bore it all so we might live.