Posted on December 30th, 2008
As I’ve grown older, my appreciation for the sovereignty of God has grown. There are so many details in life that I can’t control; I’m thankful that I know a God who can. My two little daughters’ growth and safety, the tires on my car staying inflated, my heart beating – there is a never-ending list of all the details, big and small, that keep my world turning.
I’ve always had a sense of God’s hand in my conversion. Scripture is so crystal clear on His saving of an utterly dead me. It’s not the focus of this post, but Ephesians 2 says it well: “and you were cold-, stone-, rotting-dead” (my adjectives), but then God “made us alive together with Christ.” Though many do struggle with election, my status prior to God’s regenerative work in me has never seemed to be in question. Dead, and thus unable.
What I did fall into for many years was a pushing aside of His sovereignty – and thus, my utter dependence on Him – in the rest of my Christian life, post-conversion. I fell right into moral self-determinism (hmm… is that a word?), meaning that I thanked God for clearing my sin and saving my soul and went about the work of being as good as I could, having a dependable character with which I could stand before my God.
When I sinned, I urged myself to try harder, because sin’s power had been broken and I simply needed now to apply effort, and I could be an overcomer. I could have victory.
“Jesus, I can follow you!” I was saying. “You’ve saved me, I know I can! I’ll try harder! I’ll prove myself to you!”
I realize now that I sound a bit like Peter in Luke 22:34: “With you, Jesus, I am ready for prison and death!” Right, Peter. Genuine intentions, heartfelt attitude, wrong object of faith. We all know the story – Jesus tells Peter he’ll deny Christ three times, and Peter proceeds to do just that.
Peter – though a believer – was trusting in his effort and his sincerity and his character, and not trusting entirely in Christ.
It takes that failure, that horrible sin of Peter’s threefold, emphatic denial of Christ, to drive home his inability, his own lack of character, his utter dependence on Christ for the day-by-day, moment-by-moment living he will do on earth. Even as a believer, he slipped into pride so quickly.
I wonder if my failure, my sin, is allowed by my sovereign God to help me learn, to teach me that my only hope is in Christ. That seems to be what is going on in Luke 22. Jesus prays for Peter – but what the Lord prays is not protection for Peter, that he won’t fail or sin. Rather, He prays that Peter’s faith won’t fail in the midst of his sin. This is God’s Son praying – it is a sure thing. So Christ tells Peter, “When you return…” Wow. Sovereign God, allowing Peter’s failure, keeping Peter’s faith through it by the power of prayer.
Jesus doesn’t just do that for Peter. He is constantly praying for me – after salvation. Hebrews 7:25 says of our High Priest, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
That’s my Savior. Able to save to the uttermost. Even through failure and sin. Because, like with Peter, Christ is making intercession for my faith, that it may not fail.
I am so dependent, moment by moment, on the intercession of my Savior. May I truly learn that this day, this month, this year as I enjoy the blessings of His grace. Only by faith. Only by grace.
For more on this whole topic, I really recommend a fantastic little book called When We Get It Wrong, by Dominic Smart. He goes into discipleship through the life of Peter, and it has really stimulated me to lean on my Savior in my life-learning of Him. That’s not to imply that I don’t strive with great effort at obedience — but my security is found not in my character or perceived strength, but in the steadfast surety of my Savior’s prayers.
Posted on December 24th, 2008
I walked to work today, because the weather is difficult for travel. Snow and icy rain are a bit unusual for us at Christmas-time. I slowly became cold and numb, even though I was well-wrapped in boots and jackets. I thought as I walked, “what a time for giving birth outside.”
I know that Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25. Most scholars looking at the dates either arrive at a late Spring or mid-Fall date. September 29 is a favorite possibility. So my Savior wasn’t born in snow, most likely.
But the elements surely played a factor in His birth. No room at the inn, a pregnant Mary gave birth in a stable, probably a cave, far from the comforts of home. The One who would give His life for us was laid in a feeding trough. That scene, Joseph and Mary huddled in a cave smelling of stale animals, her exhausted from giving birth, him looking down at a child that was not even his own, is the scene of the greatest event the world has ever known.
This scene is the essence of preaching. “What?,” you ask. “Preaching?” Indeed. Fifty-five times in the New Testament the verb for preaching is used, and here the angels use it of Jesus’ birth: “Do not be afraid, for behold, to you I preach the gospel, mega-joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10, my translation).
What we are celebrating at Christmastime is the gospel. Preaching, preaching the gospel, proclaiming good news, that’s what the angel was doing. Glad tidings, the gladdest that ever was, started this night when this child was born into the world.
The angel preached the gospel, the good news, for this reason: “because to you is born today a savior, who is Lord Messiah, in David’s city.” (Luke 2:11).
This amazing truth, a child born in a smelly cave lying in a feeding trough barely out of the elements to young impoverished parents in a rural, seemingly unimportant land… this is the good news which we should never stop proclaiming.
Sin, obedience, judgment, freedom, law, eternity, love, it all makes sense only as it converges on this event, this particular scene. God became man, He entered time, O blessed good news that impacts every doctrine and thought of the Christian!
The vast multitude of the heavenly host broke forth in spontaneous praise that day over Bethlehem, proclaiming God’s glory and God’s peace. May we also never forget that our humble Savior is the preaching that the world so desperately needs to hear.
This is the reason for the preaching of good news, the proclamation of good tidings by the angel. This is the reason for the sudden multitude of the heavenly host all praising God, all proclaiming His glory to the highest, His peace come to earth.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)
Merry Christmas; praises to the God who came to earth as a baby, for our sake.
Posted on December 19th, 2008
One of my favorite verses at Christmas is Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isn’t it amazing that over 700 years before Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, Isaiah prophesied of His coming, and looked even further ahead to the establishing of His kingdom? Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate the inauguration of that kingdom — the coming of the King — this season. Our precious Savior, come to earth? We look forward to the time when He will establish His kingdom of peace and justice forever.
This amazing promise of a coming Savior has special meaning to us because we have been grafted into such a salvation (Romans 11:17), so that the “us” here in Isaiah 9:6 really does include Christians. Christ is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace to you and to me, and we rejoice in remembering the birth of our Savior.
Isaiah 9 is part of a section from Isaiah 8-12, which is interesting because of what the section contains. Chapter 8 sets the stage for setting your hope entirely in God, even though hard times are coming. Then chapter 9 about the coming Messiah (Jesus!). Chapter 10 echoes chapter 8 in saying the Lord will establish His remnant, even in the face of the coming invasion; Chapter 11 echoes chapter 9 in extolling the coming Branch of Jesse, and the peace He will bring.
All four of these chapters are essentially “indicative,” meaning that they state what is coming, they state what is true, and don’t contain specific commands, or “imperatives.”
These four chapters are fantastic, encouraging news. But what should my response be? What is the primary task, the effective doing, of God’s people based on this incredible news — that God will (and has!) sent His Son, and that He will rule over us in peace and righteousness?
The answer is in the final chapter of the section, Isaiah 12. Like so many other portions of God’s Word, the imperative (“do this”) follows the indicative (“this is true”). In this season of remembering the coming of the King, may we also remember our primary response, here in Isaiah 12: praise.
Here’s the whole chapter, all 6 verses:
The first two verses are in the singular — an individual response:
You will say in that day:
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though You were angry with me,
Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and He has become my salvation.”
The last four verses are plural — our collective response:
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day:
“Give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;
make known His deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that His name is exalted.”
“Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
This is what to do, Christian, based on the coming of your king in a manger in Bethlehem:
- Individually, give thanks, trust, don’t be afraid
- All who come, joyously draw water from salvation’s wells
- Corporately, give thanks, call upon His name, proclaim His deeds and name
- Together, sing praises, shout, sing for joy
This Christmas, let us individually and together praise Him!
We have so much to be joyful about this season, as we remember the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Child born, the Son given. May we also respond as Isaiah proscribes, with thanks, singing, praise and proclamation, because of the wondrous salvation that has been given to us, in grace, by and through our Prince of Peace.
Posted on December 12th, 2008
(Today’s thoughts were stimulated by reading Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone, a wonderful and highly recommended book of short essays on our union with Christ.)
One of the laments that resounds through the Christian circles during this season is the commercialization of Christmas. There is so much marketing, so much materialism, so much in our
culture that seems to focus on ourselves and our excesses, and not upon Jesus. It is a rare year that we do not face the call to “bring Christ back into Christmas.”
This returning of Christ into Christmas is a wonderful sentiment, and a true one. We as a society are too materialistic, do focus on the self-fulfillment of gifts and buying and lights and trees. In many ways, there is little difference from how someone who does not know Jesus celebrates Christmas from someone who does.
As we look out at the Christian landscape, there is even a further concerning thought: our conception of Santa often mirrors how we think of Jesus.
Think of common Christmas songs, such as:
“He knows when you’ve been sleeping, He knows when you’re awake;
He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake”
The “he” there is Santa, but for many of us, it might as well be Jesus. Try this on for size:
“Jesus knows when you’ve been sleeping, Jesus knows when you’re awake;
Jesus knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake”
Does that seem to be your experience? Our Lord knows everything you do, so you better be good, or you won’t get any presents. If you’ve done the best you can, then perhaps Jesus will condescend to bless you with the blessing you most desire. Or perhaps He’ll overlook a few of the stumbles and sins if you make every effort for some period of time to do good, to act rightly, to be righteous.
And that last phrase is the real problem. There we go again, slipping into the “I can be good on my own” thinking that is the antithesis of the gospel. What makes me think that I have the capacity to “be good,” and that really, really trying is going to mean something? If Jesus has the characteristics of Santa, watching me to see if I deserve blessing, evaluating me to decide if I’m worth giving good things to, then I’m lost.
Sinclair Ferguson identifies Santa Christology as what it is, semi-pelagianism: “The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quot in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one’s own, or, in common parlance, ‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’).”
Christ and Santa are not friends. They have wildly different worldviews, and not in the way that we commonly think. It is not only that Santa is all about presents, gifts, and flying reindeer. Even more concerning is that Santa is about evaluating the wrong goodness — ours.
Christ does no such thing. He came to earth, humbled himself as a child, conceived before wedlock, born in utter poverty, his family fleeing from an evil king. He lived a life of perfect obedience, of utmost righteousness in every attitude and thought. He out of utmost love gave up his intimate fellowship with God the Father, bearing the sin of every believer on the cross, so that we might have His righteousness by faith.
Blessing upon blessing upon blessing has been poured out on us, believer. Not because we’ve been careful to have external goodness, but because we are associated with the Son, we are “in Christ.” O may the skies proclaim it, may the earth rejoice, may our mouths open in awe and wonder and worship of the Messiah come to earth!
As God’s people, then, we should be full of wonder and adoration of what Christ has done in this season, and not simply (as heartwarming as it is) focused on family times and warm feelings in feet, toes, and heart as we fellowship around the Christmas tree. We don’t Christianize a secular holiday, but we have a whole different reason to be wondrously adoring; O look and see what has been done!
In Mary’s words (Luke 1:46-47,49):
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
There is no Santa Christ in this; only Christ, the babe come to earth… may our spirits rejoice, may we magnify the Lord this season in what the One who is mighty has done for us!
Posted on December 10th, 2008
Finally, after many days of learning about such exciting concepts as cascading style sheets and hypertext markup language, an actual site has been born. This is it — the very first entry of a site entirely devoted to the radical, wondrous, exciting, overwhelming, all-encompassing Grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ! A few more adjectives are no doubt in order, but hopefully the point is made. Grace amazing, to you and me.
Everywhere I turn these days, I am struck by the ongoing grace of God in the world around me. Every page of God’s Word rings with grace; love worked out in the body shines forth grace; from marriage, to parenting, to work, to enjoyment of the creation, every day is filled with the grace of God. Hopefully in the days ahead we’ll get to explore more fully how grace impacts the Christian life; impacts not only in the moment of salvation, but every moment afterward.
One of the least-known lines of John Newton’s famous Amazing Grace reads:
The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures.
How fantastic a thought, that the Lord will my shield and portion be for as long as my life lasts. Perhaps Psalm 84:11 is in mind, where the sons of Korah proclaim that “the Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
The Lord is the sun for Christians… all light, all sustenance, everything comes from Him. The Lord is a shield for Christians… protection, help, safety. The Lord gives grace and glory (interesting connection, the culmination of grace is glory), and gives us all good things (hmm… not necessarily what we’d call good, but His best for us!).
We could just stop right there and bask in the wonder of what we’ve been given, except that Psalm 84:11 ends with a (possibly) disturbing phrase: “from those who walk uprightly.” Doesn’t this mean that if you do the right actions, then God will give you what you want? Doesn’t this fly right in the face of Amazing Grace and grace and glory and shields and portions?
Right away we are into the very reason for this site: grace, grace alone, after salvation. Because “he who walks uprightly” can only be said of you, or of me, inasmuch as we are united with the Righteous One, Jesus Christ. So our works, whether before or after salvation, are not what qualify the Christian as one of “those who walk uprightly.” No, rather that amazing phrase applies to us because we have “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22).
That’s alot to chew on. Named among the righteous in Psalms only by association with Christ, and not by my ongoing efforts (though I make them) to be an upstanding, moral person.
But that’s my faith. And yours too. Amazing Grace, my whole life long. All glory, praise, and honor to Jesus Christ my Lord!