Categories
Theology

The John 3:16 of the Old Testament

I’ve talked to many Christians who were taught and believed that God’s people Israel in the Old Testament were saved by works, rather than grace.

Of course, looking at the prologue to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 will show that’s simply not true. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:2).

God acts. God does the work. God does the saving.

Then he gives them his law. The order goes like this: God rescues his people. Then he tells them what their lives should look like under his kingly rule.

Add to that Hebrews 11 where we see that those saints who have come before were saved, not by their commitment to the law, but for their faith. That’s the whole point of that chapter.

That should be enough.

But another passage stuck out to me this morning I hadn’t noticed before. Deuteronomy 4:37: “Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength.”

That sounds a lot like John 3:16, doesn’t it? That verse says, “God loved the world this way: he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” 

  • “Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them” → God loved the world
  • “He brought you out of Egypt” → will not perish but have eternal life 
  • “By his Presence and his great strength” → he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him

When you lay the two passage side-by-side, we see that God’s love is the initiating motivation for salvation. His very real presence and grace is the power of salvation. And finally, freedom and life with God–the rescue from bondage and death–is the result of God’s salvation.

Whether Old Testament or New, the salvation of God does not come because of the obedience or conformity to God’s law, in part or in whole.

It comes freely and only to his people by his grace, his power, and his very Presence.

Categories
Theology

Another Sola?

During the Reformation, there were five “solae” (sola is Latin for “alone”) that attempted to sum up the doctrine of salvation. To the reformers, salvation is:

by Grace alone
through Faith alone
in Christ alone
as revealed in Scripture alone
for the Glory of God alone

This is right and good. But is it enough?

Several years ago, a mentor posed the question to me: “I wonder how history would have changed had the reformers included another sola: for love alone.”

There should be another. After all, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

Think about it. How might church history, or even world history, be different if the reformers had been absolutely focused on ensuring their theology so transformed people it made them into the best lovers of God and neighbor the world had ever seen?

Reformed theology is a beautiful thing. I’ve benefited from it so much. But as I continue to grow older, I’m not so naïve to believe it alone (see what I did there?) has all the goods. Love, like we see it in the life of Jesus, simply was not emphasized by the reformers or their pupils as it should have been.

Reformed theology has too often trained many of its students, including me, to embrace and practice a faith that seeks to be right rather than get it right. Being right is nice when you’re having a debate with your buddy. Getting it right? Love is getting it (aka “life”) right.

And that’s the exact thing Jesus told us really matters to God. I want that to matter for you and me.

We need good theology. Obviously! But let’s be honest: knowing good theology without real, true, Spirit-empowered love makes us, as someone once put it, good for nothing.

Categories
Theology

An Interview with the Apostle Paul on Faith, Works, Law, and Gospel

Thanks for joining me this morning as I interview the one and only, Apostle Paul. Paul, thanks for joining me today and helping me understand Galatians 3 a bit better. What a wonderful section, by the way! Well, anyway, let’s get started. Can you tell me the audience you have in mind?
Those who have been bewitched and are deserting him who called them in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.

Wow, strong language. Why is this such an important issue to you?
It was before their eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Interesting. Well, note-to-self: a “different” gospel lacks the grace of Christ and the cross of Christ. I’ll remember that. What was your central concern as you wrote this portion of the letter?
Let me ask you…do we receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?…Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit and works miracles do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

I see. Let me try to sum that up: your central concern seems to be that faith, not works, is the foundation for the Christian’s life in the Spirit and progress toward perfection. Why is this the case?
[It was this way for]…Abraham [who] believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

What does Abraham have to do with this?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Now Paul, I’m a Gentile (Polish, German, and Italian mainly, with a bit of Serbian). And the Galatians, they were Gentiles too. Why involve this Jewish patriarch?
[Because] the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Earlier, you mentioned that we do not receive the Spirit by works of the law. What would happen if I relied on works of the law?
All who rely on the law are under a curse.

Why?
It is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

But aren’t the most righteous people in the world those who live by the letter of the law? I mean, doesn’t their morality merit favor with God?
It is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

But isn’t the law of faith?
The law is not of faith, rather, “The one who does them shall live by them.”

This all seems like terrible news–no one can be perfect. How then can we be redeemed from this curse of the law?
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

How did Christ become a curse for us?
[As] it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

Of course! But going back to Abraham again: what then does this have to do with him and his children?
[This was] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Can you give an illustration or example to help me understand?
Even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.

I’m not following you.
The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

I’m still lost, Paul. Can you explain further?
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Now I understand. So, just as a human covenant cannot be changed, so God’s promise (his covenant) to Abraham cannot be made void just because of the law–which came more than four centuries later anyway. In light of this, what is the purpose of the law?
It was added because of transgressions.

How long would the law be in effect?
Until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

Paul, I get the Abraham tie-in. But, angels? What gives? 
An intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Alright, so the law, given by angels, is not the fullest and final revelation of God. God’s ultimate revelation of himself comes from himself—in Christ—not from someone else. If all this is true, then wouldn’t it seem that the law is contrary to the promises of God?
Certainly not!

Why?
For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Why didn’t God establish a law that could give life and righteousness?
The Scriptures imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So that brings it back to your central concern: faith is foundational in the Christian life. Those who trust in Christ receive the blessing promised to Abraham. You sure do tie up all your loose ends, Paul. But what about before Christ came and the possibility of faith in him?
Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Since we now know Christ and have faith in his finished work, does that change things with the law?
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Does that change the way God views us?
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We are sons of God, baptized into Christ, and clothed with Christ. Awesome! What then are the implications of this for everyday life?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Marvelous. Beautiful. To close, can you sum up your argument in 140 characters or less? (That’s a popular way people express themselves in the 21st century.)
If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Thanks, Paul, for joining me! Again, Galatians 3 and this interview have proved beneficial to me, and I trust it will do the same for our readers. Praise God! 

Categories
Life

The Grace of the Cross

Taken from Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

O MY SAVIOR,
I thank Thee from the depths of my being for Thy wondrous grace and love in bearing my sin in Thine own body on the tree. May Thy cross be to me as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs, as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty, as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith. By Thy cross crucify my every sin, use it to increase my intimacy with thyself, make it a ground of all my comfort, the liveliness of all my duties, the sum of all Thy gospel promises, the comfort of all my afflictions, the vigor of my love, thankfulness, graces, the very essence of my religion, and by it give me that rest without rest, the rest of ceaseless praise.

OH MY LORD AND SAVIOR,
Thou hast also appointed a cross for me to take up and carry, a cross before Thou givest me a crown. Thou hast appointed it to be my portion, but self-love hates it, carnal reason is unreconciled to it, without the grace of patience I cannot bear it, walk with it, profit by it. Oh blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring with thee. Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will, heavy because I shirk thy load. Teach me, gracious Lord and Savior, that with my cross Thou sends promised grace so that I may bear it patiently, that my cross is Thy yoke which is easy, and Thy burden which is light.

 

Categories
Life Ministry

Tremble Because God Did That, Not You

Here’s a portion of my sermon, “Work Out Your Own Salvation” from Philippians 2:12-13.

Paul doesn’t give us a three-step process for sanctification (there are very few, if any, of those in Scripture). Rather, he describes a heart disposition that characterizes “working out your own salvation.”

At the end of verse 12, he says to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” meaning, “You do not have what it takes, so be very, very, very aware of that it is all grace.”

  • If you wake up and have the desire to read the Bible, tremble, because God did that, not you.
  • If you go home happy to see your husband or wife after a long day of work and you are not a grumpy mess, tremble, because God did that, not you.
  • If you do not lash out at that classmate who has harassed you time and time again, but instead pray for them, tremble, because God did that, not you.
  • If you resist the temptation to look at someone in a way you should not look at them, tremble, because God did that, not you
  • If you delight when a friend succeeds, rather than succumb to jealously, tremble, because God did that, not you.
  • If you spontaneously offer to give something away that is precious to you, tremble, because God did that, not you.
  • If you joyfully sing to the Lord this morning, tremble, because God did that, not you.

It should make us tremble that even though we are Christians, we have no power on our own to do good. That makes God’s power and grace all the more astonishing.

Listen to the whole thing.