This I Believe: The Triune God

Over the next couple weeks,  I will post a series of snippets from a personal confessional statement I wrote a while back for a seminary class. Each day, I will post one article from my personal statement. There’s nothing spectacular or earth shattering about my beliefs. If you are an evangelical, there’s not one thing I will say that will make your jaw drop. Indeed, this confessional statement is remarkable because it is, to be sure, quite unremarkable. It is simple a retelling of the old gospel and the historic doctrines of our faith. If anything, I hope your jaw drops out of delight in our glorious God.

Those who know me or read this blog know that I align myself with the historic Christian faith as articulated first in Scripture, and then in the historic Creeds (Apostles’NiceneChalcedon, and Athanasian) and various evangelical confessions of faith. On matters of doctrine, I embrace the maxim, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.” In other words, while I believe that all doctrine is important, I do not believe that unity on all points of doctrine is not necessary for salvation. I hope you will notice that this conviction is ingrained into my statement.

Of course, no confessional statement should be divorced from God’s people, for we are God’s house, a diverse unity. God is creating a people for himself, not a bunch of lone ranger Christians. Therefore, “we believe” is more essential than “I believe.” In light of this, doctrinal statements should always be vitally connected to the universal and local church. At the same time, I think it is wise for individual Christians to be able to winsomely articulate, “This is what I believe,” while consciously remembering that simply having a personal statement of faith does not constitute an individual as a church!

The following modern statements have highly influenced me (and in some cases, I have simply adopted or slightly modified their wording): the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the Baptist General Conference Affirmation of Faith, the Evangelical Free Church of America Statement of Faith, and The Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement.


The Triune God
I believe that there is one living and true God, eternally existing in three persons who dwell together in perfecting loving unity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I believe these are equal in every divine perfection, and that they execute distinct but harmonious offices in the work of creation, providence and redemption. God is spirit, immortal, invisible, holy, loving, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, everywhere-present, unchangeable, and sovereign. God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for himself and to make all things new for his own glory.

Gen. 1:1,26; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1, 3; 4:24; Rom. 1:19, 20; Eph. 4:5, 6

Why is it important to understand the difference between justification and sanctification?

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:5-8)

Justification involves God forgiving sin. Some would argue that it does not, but without the forgiveness of sin, we cannot be made right with God.

In Paul’s magnificent treatment of this doctrine in Romans 4, he points to David as proof that justification is by faith alone, when he wrote in Psalm 32, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”  Forgiveness happens when one person says to another, “I won’t count this against you. I choose to forgive, rather than condemn.”

Justification and forgiveness change the way one person is viewed by another.  When God justifies a person, he makes a legal declaration about them. He makes them right in relationship to himself.  But this does not change people in a practical way.  There is no change in our thinking, behavior, or attitude.  Justification is not sanctification, for when God sanctifies a person, he actively does something in them.

You might think, James, why are you writing this? What’s the big deal? Why do I need to know the difference? After all, as long as you read the Bible and love Jesus, you don’t need to know these theological definitions, right?

Wrong.

If you think justification and sanctification are the same thing, then the very foundation of  your standing with God will shake beneath you.  You will despair of God’s love after that lonely late night affair with pornography.  You will doubt that God is for you when you yet again blown up at your children for running around the house.  You will wonder if God will ignore your prayers after you have neglected sharing the gospel with your neighbor. You will wonder if God will abandon his commitment to you after you have spoken harshly to your spouse.

If, to you, justification and sanctification are the same, you will always wrestle with whether you are enough for God. The truth is, you and I will never be enough. But Jesus is. So praise be to God that because of Christ “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).

The Rob Bell Saga

If you follow blogs and Twitter (and you probably do since you are on this blog), then you are probably not unaware of what is going on with Rob Bell.  If you are unaware, then you either 1) fasted Twitter the past week or 2) are in denial of what your tweeting eyes see.

Full disclosure: I used to like Rob Bell’s teaching. Then I read Velvet Elvis. I made no secret here what I thought about Bell after reading that book.  He has been particularly ambiguous over the past few years with key biblical doctrines.

This past Saturday, Rob Bell blew up the Internet, specifically, Twitter, with the release of some promo material, including a video, for his new book Love Wins which will go on sale this month.  In the promos, Bell appears to align himself with universalism — the belief that everyone goes to heaven.  He was mentioned so much on Twitter that he was “trending,” which means that even tweeters in Egypt were hearing about Rob Bell.  Who had the biggest beef with Bell? It was the Reformed theologians and bloggers, of course. They were (in my opinion) being discerning, honest, biblical, and faithful to the gospel.

Here’s a timeline of some things that went down:

  • HarperCollins (Bell’s publisher) releases a blurb about his new book and a video promo featuring Bell.  (You can watch the video below.)
  • Justin Taylor blogs his thoughts about the promo material and Bell.
  • John Piper tweets, “Farewell Rob Bell. http://dsr.gd/fZqmd8.”
  • Josh Harris tweets, “There’s nothing loving about preaching a false gospel. This breaks my heart. Praying for Rob Bell. http://bit.ly/gsE4Gl.”
  • Harris follows up his tweet with a blog about why he hopes he’s wrong, including thoughts from Denny Burke, dean of Southern Seminary.
  • Kevin DeYoung presents eight reasons why believing in God’s wrath and hell is important.
  • Tony Jones writes that the Reformed bloggers have been waiting to pounce on Bell.
  • Kevin DeYoung shares two more thoughts on the brouhaha.
  • Beliefnet blogger, Jason Boyett, questions the tweetings of Piper and Taylor
  • Albert Mohler weighs in on Rob Bell’s suggestive theology.
  • CNN writes an article about all of this, interviewing Taylor.

Stay tuned. I’ll do my very best to continue to link to helpful posts and tweets. And when the time is right, I will share some of my own thoughts, though I can’t possibly top DeYoung’s and Burke’s.

Bell’s promo video:

I Want to Love Jesus, Not Just Know Stuff About Him

I just finished reading Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis again, making it only the second book, along with Don’t Waste Your Life, that I have read twice.

At the end of the book, the authors made the point that what they are really after is not a church method that will sell books or put butts in pews, but to spread a passion for God.  They write:

Have you noticed how possible it is to speak about doctrine and yet remain reluctant to speak of the Savior in intimate terms? I find it easy to speak with other Christians about mission or church. I can talk all day about the exegetical complexities of Romans 7. I enjoy nothing more than a lengthy discussion of some point of doctrine. But I find myself stumbling when conversation drifts toward Jesus! I suspect I am not alone. I have been attending conferences for more than twenty-five years; yet rarely have conversations in those meetings turned toward the loveliness of the Savior. What a tragic irony! One of the great glories of the new covenant is that it consists of personal possessive pronouns: Jesus is my Savior and my Lord; to me he is the all-together lovely one and the fairest of ten-thousand! Consider Paul’s great boast: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

It is so easy for me to slip into this trap. Theology and doctrine are good things. But they are only good so long as we see Jesus first and foremost. If doctrine leads to anything else other than love for God, it is, as Paul would say, worth nothing (see 1 Cor. 13).

Lately, I have been praying more and more that the aroma of Christ would ooze from my being, and that God would rescue me from the stench of puffed-up knowledge about Jesus. Having Christ’s aroma only comes from being near him — close enough that his scent rubs off on me. Oh how I long to intimately and intensely love Jesus, rather than simply know pithy trivia about him.

Lord, help my theology and knowledge to lead to love for you.

If the Bible Says it Once, It’s True

Some Christians believe in annihilationism, that is, that those who do not receive Jesus will not suffer in  hell, but will actually cease to exist.

But Matthew 25:46, plain as day, says that people will be punished forever if they are not saved.  It would be hard to reconcile annihilationism with these words of Jesus.  In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem wrote, “The Bible only needs to say something once for it to be true.”

Eternal punishment in hell is a terrible doctrine, indeed.  But if the Bible teaches it, then we must believe it, and hard as this seems, learn to love it in a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, non-vengeful way.