Categories
Theology

C is for Christocentric

How do you read the Bible? To find rules to obey, to discover spiritual insights for your life path, or memorize answers for doctrinal debate?  Dane Ortlund posted several weeks back on the Resurgence blog about transforming your Bible reading.  He wrote, “Biblical theology reads the Bible as an unfolding drama, taking place in real-world time and space, that culminates in a man named Jesus.”

We call this type of theology “Christocentric” (aka “Christ-centered”). The Bible is truly God’s grand story of redemption in the world he created, and that redemption is found and fulfilled in Jesus.  Therefore, the way we view the creation, the fall, redemption, and future glory should be centered upon him.

If we have an anthropocentric (aka human-centered) view of the world or Scripture, we will inevitably make life and redemption about us. Grace will not longer be grace, and we will make God a debtor to us.  Salvation will not be a free gift–it will be something we have earned and deserve.

We cannot even have a view of the world and redemption that is centered on others. Why? Because no human being–not even a spouse or child–can bear that responsiblity.  Ernest Becker wrote, “If your partner is your ‘All’ then any shortcoming in him becomes a major threat to you…What is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position?…We want to be rid of…our feeling of nothingness…We want redemption–nothing less. Needless to say, humans cannot give this.”

The Bible does not let us go either of those ways, however.  We could discuss dozens of passages all over the Bible that declare this, but one passage in particular stands out about the rest in calling us to a Christocentric view of Scripture and all of life.  Colossians 1:15-22 says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

How glorious!  We could spend years on this paragraph, but notice the linchpin of the text: all things were created through him and for him. Was anything made through you or for you, or through or for any other human for that matter?  I don’t think so.

If my world is Jamescentric, I will be a miserable and mean wretch of a man, isolated from others and void of purpose, meaning, significance, and love. But if my world is Christocentric, Jesus will be my supreme delight and ultimate end, and in him there is complete joy and pleasure forevermore (Ps. 16:11).

Categories
Life Theology

A is for Atonement

Even though the word does not appear in the New Testament, the idea of atonement still permeates the whole Bible.  Salvation is possible and effectual for all who believe in Jesus because he atoned for our sins by his sacrificial death on the cross.

The Hebrew word for atonement is kaphar and it means “to cover, purge, and reconcile.”  In the Old Testament, God atoned for the sins of his people through animal sacrifice. Leviticus 16 is a particularly important passage for us when we consider the history of this word.

Leviticus 16 is important because it describes the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, known to us as “The Day of Atonement.” On that day, the high priest was to  make atonement for himself and his family, then for the people of Israel.  Verse 34 tells us, “This shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of their sins.”

In the New Testament, Jesus is our atonement because, simply, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Before Christ, sacrifices had to be made once a year. They were a foreshadowing of what was to come in Jesus, who “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26).

Not only is Jesus our atonement, but he was substituted for us as he took the penalty for sin. These ideas together give us the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (penal meaning “penalty”).  It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Christian faith is wholly dependent on this doctrine.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).

He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isa. 53:5-6).

If you do not receive the payment Jesus made for sin by his atoning sacrifice, then you will continually seek something else to make the payment. You will seek to cover your sin and shortcomings with relationships, status, wealth, body-image, reputation, knowledge, wisdom, adventure, entertainment, discipline, work-ethic, sexual encounters, or a thousand other things.  And, as Tim Keller has said, those things can never ultimately save you, and if you fail them, they will never forgive you.

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Over the next couple of months, we’ll be walking through the ABC’s of Christianity.  I’ll write short posts about 26 words that every Christian needs to know.

Categories
Life Theology

Exchanging God’s Glory for Created Things

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:22-23)

Paul describes in verse 23 what this looks like.  The result of believing yourself to be wise in your own right is exchanging the glory of God for the glory of some lesser thing—that is, something created.  Here, we see the first dark exchange that man has made for worship of his Creator.  Paul writes, “And [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”  People have exchanged the worship of God for idols.  Futility of mind and foolishness ultimately leads to idolatry.   Every person was created for worship.  People either worship God as Creator, Author, and Sustainer of life, or something that is created and, by definition, finite, dependent, and frail.  Paul said that people have exchanged the glory of God for images.  What kind of images?  He points to man, birds, animals, and reptiles.  In essence, every created animate object on earth.

Paul does not have in mind the Israelites of the OT or pagan Gentiles, but rather the entirety of mankind (Moo, Epistle to the Romans, p. 110).  It is natural for people to worship and in our foolishness and unrighteousness, we suppress God’s truth and worship we can see and touch.  So this passage applies to the one who worships sex, money, fame, food, friends, or technology just as much as it does to the one who makes a statue out of gold or stone.

The question we must ask ourselves is: “What am I exchanging for the glory of the immortal God?”  In other words, what is it that we want to glorify and exalt and take true satisfaction in?  Tim Keller has said that nearly every idol is a “good thing.”  Think about the things that we worship.  None of them are inherently bad—money, sex, food, spouse, children, work, friends, computers, communication, etc.  However, when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, Keller says, that thing becomes a god thing, an idol.  We must get to the root of our desires and discern what those things are that we consider ultimate things.

Keller said one way of identifying those things would be to pose this statement to yourself: “If I lost _______, I would want to die.”  If we examine our lives closely, we can ask ourselves, what takes up our time, energy, and resources.  Is it the one who is “blessed forever,” the one who is “immortal, invisible, the only God” who has “honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim. 1:17)?  Or is it something that is finite, dependent, and frail?  And if this other “god” were to die, would it rise from the dead like Jesus did?  The answer is a resounding no.

 

Categories
Life

Why is local church membership important?

Church membership is something that the local church — particularly my generation — has black-eyed.  It’s too structured and too old school.  It’s not cool.  It’s just a way for the church to have a hand in your pocketbook.

I couldn’t disagree more. Carly and I recently went through our church membership class.  We connected with our lead pastor and were able to align ourselves with the mission and vision of our church.  That is significant, but more than that, I think membership in a local congregation is important; and I think there are texts in the New Testament that infer something like the contemporary version of what we know as church membership.

It’s important for a couple reasons — off the top of my head.  First, for the lead elder/pastor to know who he is accountable for before God (see 1 Peter 5 and Hebrews 13 for examples).  Second, in order for church discipline to be handled correctly, there must be an identifiable group of people who are members, who can vote on such issues. After all, how can a man be kicked out of church if there is no membership (see 1 Corinthians 5 for example).

Lord willing, expect more on this later.

Here are John Piper’s thoughts on the subject.

Categories
Life Theology

Jesus: The Greater David

Jesus isn’t just the greater Moses. He is also the greater David. In Psalm 78, the psalmist is reflecting on Israel’s rebellion against God after they were saved from slavery in Egypt. God was so gracious to his people despite their unfaithfulness. “Yet,” the psalmist wrote, “they sinned still more against him” (vv. 17, 40, 56).

Later in the Psalm, the writer tells us that he chose a shepherd from the tribe of Judah to lead his people back to God. This shepherd is David. The psalmist tells us:

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand (vv. 70-72).

You might be thinking, “David had an upright heart?! What about that whole Bathsheba and Uriah thing? That wasn’t so upright!” And you would be right. Of course David had his moral failures. He was human. And that’s the point: as great as David was as shepherd-king of Israel, he still fell short of the perfection that God’s people needed.

That’s where Jesus comes in. In John 10, he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).  In saying this, Jesus claims to be the long awaited heir of David who would lead God’s people perfectly. He would be the ultimate shepherd-king who would never have a moral failure or a bad thought toward his flock.

When we read the Old Testament, we cannot look for examples in men like David and Moses. We need to see them as imperfect men who could never fully be what God’s people needed.  They should not inspire us to be better people. They should leave us longing to be saved by the greater Man who did and said all that God wanted with complete perfection.