Jesus

God’s Glory-Sharing

Two Sundays ago, I preached a sermon called “Jesus’ Missionary Prayer” from John 17. Here’s a snippet:

So because God is complete in his Trinitarian love and glory-sharing, the reason we exist cannot be because God needs us to love and glorify him. The reason for mission cannot be that he needs us to find more people to love him, as if he lacked love. He already has that in himself. The only possibility is that God wants to share his glory with men and women so that we might be filled and complete as we behold his glory. Carly and I did not want to have children to fill a void in our marriage. We wanted to have children to share the love we have for each other. We didn’t need more love, we wanted to spread love so that our kids might know something of it. Listen to Jesus in vv. 22-24:

22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

So, again, let me reiterate that the great goal of mission is that people will behold and experience the glory of God.

But there’s a problem. We have exchanged the glory of God for lesser glories. Money, relationships, power, control, recognition, achievement, or a thousand other things. We want glory in places where glory is menial and temporal.

So we have no right to this glorious divine community—unless, of course, one of the members of the community is cast out to make room for us. And that’s what happened to Jesus on the cross. The cross was his mission—that’s the whole context of this prayer. In v. 1 when he says that his “hour has come,” it’s a term Jesus uses repeatedly throughout John to refer to his appointment with death. The crucifixion has arrived, and Jesus is going to put his glory aside and, in a sense, revolve around us. He is going to willingly step out of sweet fellowship with the Father so that we might be welcomed in and share in God’s glory. But not because God needs us, but because we will never be complete without God.

Listen to the whole sermon.

What Do ‘True Christians’ Believe about Homosexuality?

In the aftermath of the Phil Robertson-GQ debacle, one talking head, Wilson Cruz, spokesman for GLAAD (formerly called Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), ignorantly said this in GLAAD’s statement to Robertson’s comments:

Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.

Let me state up-front: the way Robertson stated his position might “fly in the face” of what true Christians believe. His answer was unnecessarily crass. He put an obstacle in the way for people to listen to his perspective. This is not commendable. However, true Christians have always believed that living an unrepentant gay lifestyle is sinful. This is where Cruz is dead-wrong. Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians all agree on this, and they always have. (By the way, so do Muslims, and the Dalai Lama.)

So what specifically do true Christians believe about homosexuality? Cruz, and others, might argue that Jesus never talked about homosexuality. So, he doesn’t condemn it, and neither should Christians like me. This is, in fact, a very popular argument. And a bad one.

Ancient Jewish culture did not celebrate homosexuality like Western culture does today. Though people engaged in homosexual activity, it was labeled as an abomination in the Hebrew Scriptures (Lev. 18:22; cf. 20:13). That did not change between the testaments. Even today, rabbis do not condone the practice. We can be confident there was no Jewish effort in Jesus’ day to get so-called “gay marriage” legalized. In the Gentile pagan culture, people were more apt to practice homosexuality (as is evidenced by Paul’s letters, one of which I will address below). Yet it was never seen as a viable alternative to heterosexual marriage.

When Jesus had the chance to talk about marriage (and thus God’s design for covenant, sexual relationships), how did he talk? Fielding a question about divorce, Jesus said this:

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment [i.e. allowance for divorce]. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:5-9)

The context is about divorce, but the point is clear enough: marriage was instituted by God from the beginning of creation to be a life-long union between man and woman. For those still waiting to hear the words “homosexuality” out of Jesus’ lips, you won’t hear it. You won’t hear it because, according to Jesus, there’s not a debate to be had. Marriage is for one man and one woman. Case closed.

Paul, speaking and writing authoritatively as an apostle of Jesus did talk about homosexuality:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; cf. et al.).

What this means is that homosexuality (and a host of other sins!) are contrary to a gospel-shaped life. Each sin is contrary to the gospel in its own way. Homosexuality is contrary to the gospel because marriage is designed to be a picture of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:32). When marriage is altered to serve sinful desire, it not only communicates, “Marriage doesn’t matter,” but it assaults the gospel by saying, “The gospel doesn’t matter.” This is why Christians get fired up in the marriage debate. It’s not that marriage in and of itself is the end goal (though some Christians come across that way). Rather, marriage is a picture of something far greater: the gospel! It is a live-action dramatization of the gospel: the husband (illustrating Christ) loves and self-sacrifices; the wife (illustrating the church) respects and defers ultimate leadership to her husband. This is the gospel in action. A Christ-centered marriage will be the best sermon a Christian couple can preach.

What this passage (1 Cor. 6:9-10 above) does not mean is that people who identify as gays and lesbians are “worse sinners” than anyone else. Let me put it simply: a person can be a Christian and have same-sex urges, temptations, and even behaviors just like a person can be a Christian and desire to lie (and engage in lying behaviors) to gain approval from her friends. How can this be? True Christians fight. Christians are people who continually repent of and confess the root cause of their sin and run to Jesus. Christians fight to believe daily the gospel promises that Christ is their new identity, he is their righteousness, his death provided their forgiveness, and he is working in them to change them to look more like himself. No one is immune to sexual temptation and sin, so Christians should stop acting as if same-sex attraction is in the “God-could-never-deal-with-that-sin” category. If the heterosexuals reading this are honest (along with me), we have sexual baggage, too. Christ deals with us in his kindness and calls us away from the lie of our (fill-in-the-blank) sexual temptation toward the fullness he offers us in the gospel. The way Jesus introduced his ministry is what the Christian life is about: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

So in this “vice list” in 1 Corinthians 6 (cf. 1 Tim.1:10; Rev. 21:8), Paul is talking about people who find their identity in sin: sexual immorality, idolatry, homosexuality, greed, alcohol, swindling, etc. A 20-something who claims to be a Christian but sleeps with his girlfriend and wastes his days and nights on the XBox and shows no signs of repentance does not find his identity in Christ. He is in the same precarious position as an openly gay or lesbian person who professes faith in Jesus yet fails to acknowledge that homosexuality is contrary to a gospel-shaped life. Both find their identity in something other than Jesus. Both people are suppressing the truth and exchanging the glory of God for created things (Rom. 1:18-23). They may not be true Christians, therefore they should examine themselves to see whether or not they are truly in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

A person who finds their identity in Jesus, however, will listen to Jesus’ words. And listening to Jesus’ words means repenting and going to him by grace through faith, rejecting the lies of sin, and fighting to continually believe the promises of the gospel and live in a manner worthy of Jesus.

Advent 2013

Historically, the Christian church has devoted the month of December to celebrating Advent (from the Latin adventus, which means “coming, arrival”). The first Advent was Jesus’ birth: when God himself took on flesh as a humble baby, born in a dirty stable. For centuries upon centuries, the Old Testament saints had anticipated the Messiah’s arrival. We, too, are saints who anticipate the Messiah’s second arrival. Jesus’ next Advent will come when he returns at the end of the age, not as a poor, humble carpenter, but as a warrior King who rescues his friends and subdues his foes.

As we celebrate Jesus’ first arrival, and anticipate his second, we join millions of other Christians around the globe, in purposeful and intentional daily reflection on the wonders and glories of the gospel. Below are a few resources to help you as you celebrate Christ’s first coming and await his second coming

The Center of Luther’s Theology

As a follow up to my post yesterday, I wanted to write about the center of Martin Luther’s theology. I am by no means a church history expert (or an expert on Luther), but I hope this will provide you even more insight into Luther’s heart for gospel-centered theology.

Without a doubt, all the aspects of Luther’s theology play a vital role across the spectrum of Protestantism today. The doctrine of justification by faith is typically the preeminent banner that flies over Lutheran theology, in particular. Perhaps, however, Luther’s doctrine of “law and gospel” was his theological center.

According to Luther, the revelation of God is made manifest in two ways: law and gospel. This does not mean the Old Testament is law and the New Testament is gospel. Rather, God reveals himself throughout the Bible—in both Testaments—through law and gospel. Throughout Scripture, God reveals both words of judgment (law) and words of grace (gospel). Indeed, grace is empty without hearing a word of judgment. A word of judgment drives to despair without grace.

The reason that the doctrine of law and gospel may preeminent in Luther’s theology (over against justification by faith) is that it logically precedes it. The law communicates God’s infinite holiness and how unworthy humans are of relationship with him because of their sinfulness. The word of forgiveness is found in the gospel. The gospel is only good news because of the incredibly bad news that humans cannot (even will not) be reconciled to God. Therefore, law and gospel paves the way for justification by faith. Rather than simply believing that God justifies sinners, law and gospel helps the Christian understand why God can justify sinners. God can only justify sinners because of his word of grace in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Once a person receives this by faith, they are justified in God’s sight.

Justification by faith may lead some to assume antinomianism. This is not the case, however, according to Luther. After justification (being declared righteous before God) by faith, the word of law plays a different role in the believers life than before. The law, which used to be a word of condemnation, is now the pathway to joy and blessing. It was formerly a word of “must do;” now it is a word of “get to.” As Luther himself writes, “Earlier it told me what I ought to do. Now I begin to adapt myself to it.”[1]

Finally, there is a constant dialectic between law and gospel which leads the Christian to believe he is at the same time both sinful and justified.[2] This was a hallmark of Luther’s view of the Christian life. Thus, there is an inherent link between law and gospel. The law is given to show our sinfulness even as Christians and our constant, continually need of the Redeemer. The gospel reveals Christ, the Redeemer, in all his saving might. Then, even after we are justified by faith, the gospel frees us to adapt ourselves to the law and live in a manner worth of our justification.

Whether or not we perfectly agree with Luther on this law-gospel tension as the center of Christian theology, we can be thankful for his relentless pursuit of gospel-centeredness in his own day as we seek to pursue the same in ours.

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[1] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day, rev. ed., (New York: Harper One, 2010), 51.
[2] Ibid., 62.

The Accidental Reformer

Martin Luther accidentally helped spark a revival in the church that continues today. If you worship Jesus at any Protestant congregation, you can thank God for using this German monk.

The son of a copper miner, Martin Luther was an exceptionally bright young man. He began studying law at the university level when he was only 13, and he completed his degree in the shortest amount of time allowed. When he was 21, Luther nearly died in a severe thunderstorm. He thought God was threatening him so in the middle of pouring rain and booming thunder, Luther vowed, “I will become a Monk if you save me!”

After becoming a Roman Catholic monk, Luther grew to be terrorized by God’s wrath because of his sin. Luther had a tremendously sensitive conscience. Sin tormented him so much so that he tried to justify himself before God by any means possible. Prayers, extreme fasting, self-flagellation, and even staying in the freezing cold were all attempts to get God on his side. Luther’s entire life was one, grand self-salvation project. He once said, “If anyone would have gained heaven as a monk, I would have been among them.”

Luther’s self-salvation project eventually waned and ultimately dissatisfied his soul. While he pursued a doctorate in Bible, he began to see how the gospel is reveals justification is by faith, not works. This doctrine became the hallmark of Luther’s theology. After God revealed this to him, primarily through Psalms and Romans, Luther stated: “Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.” God’s salvation transformed Luther’s life and led to one of the most courageous, individual acts in world history: nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

Because of Luther’s new birth in Christ, he grew restless with the Catholic Church’s position on a number of issues, including justification, papal authority, the authority of Scripture, and forgiveness of sin. He particularly opposed the church concerning indulgences. An indulgence was a statement made by church clergy that was believed to remove or satisfy the punishment for sin. A person could purchase an indulgence to ensure that they would spend the least amount of time possible in purgatory. This communicated that sin was excused and salvation could be purchased with money. Few today realize that this issue of indulgences was the main thing Luther attacked in his Theses.

On All Saint’s Eve, October 31, 1517, Luther marched to the Castle Church to nail his theses to the door. Church doors in those days served as community message boards. Due to the next day (All Saint’s Day) being a church holiday, nearly everyone in Wittenberg would have seen his post within 24 hours as they arrived for church services. Luther did not want to start a revolution. He intended for the discussion to mainly be relegated to the academic arena–after all, Luther was an academic theologian at the time. Posting something on the church door then was akin to writing a blog post today. He did not expect it to gain much traction. However, with his posting, a city-wide, public discussion of the church’s practices ensued. Luther wrote in Latin, which only academics and other educated people would have understood. But because of the newly invented printing press, the Theses were translated to German. They didn’t spread as quickly as a viral video on YouTube, but they were distributed all over Germany within two weeks and around Europe within two months. Not bad for the sixteenth century.

Luther’s Theses called the church to repentance. Luther’s first thesis set the tone for the Reformation: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Indulgences had become treasured in the church, but Luther pushed back with perhaps his most majestic contention of all: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (Thesis 62). Luther proclaimed that those who sold indulgences within the church were false prophets who declared peace, when there was no peace (Thesis 92; an allusion to Jer. 6:14). True confidence was found not in works or trying to buy salvation, but through faith in Christ (Theses 94-95). In Luther’s thought, justification by faith was the center of the gospel.

With his protest (along with the help of other faithful men in other parts of Europe), Luther accidentally sparked the greatest church movement since the end of the first century: the Protestant Reformation. Luther was called to recant of his beliefs in 1520. He did not recant, and he was excommunicated, exiled, and outlawed by Charles V in 1521. He went on to translate the Bible to German, wrote the Larger and Small Catechism, and became an accomplished hymn writer. Luther’s theology centered on Christ as the Word of God, the finished work of Christ on the cross, the relationship between law and gospel, and justification by faith. He was not without flaw of course, but his legacy continues today. Nevertheless, on this Reformation Day, we do not celebrate Martin Luther. Luther’s legacy does not lie in his theology or being a revolutionary. His legacy lies in the fact that he pointed to One greater than himself, the Lord Jesus. It is from the Lord alone that Luther received grace to recognize error, repent of sin, and stand for truth. It is from the Lord alone that Luther received strength to spark a revolution–even if accidentally.