The Church as the Ultimate Barrier Breaker

I often find myself forgetting that I am one individual member of an absolutely enormous body called the Church. Still more, I forget this Church is a Body that is incredibly diverse.  Spending 2009 in South Africa helped me in this, but I’m still learning to think outside of my own little kingdom.  This Body isn’t diverse just because it has hands and feet and ears.  It’s diverse because the hands are African and the ears are Latino and the feet are Asian, along with a thousand other races, people groups, and languages.

Wayne Grudem reminded me of this today in his Systematic Theology:

When Paul preaches the gospel both to Jews and to Gentiles, and they become unified in the one body of Christ (Eph. 3:6), the incredible “mystery” that was “hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph. 3:9) is plain for all to see, namely, that in Christ such totally diverse people become unified…If the Christian church is faithful to God’s wise plan, it will be always in the forefront in breaking down racial and social barriers in societies around the world, and will thus be a visible manifestation of God’s amazingly wise plan to bring great unity out of great diversity and thereby to cause all creation to honor him (emphasis added).

God is more glorified in redeeming a diverse people and bringing them to unity.  Yet God spares us from uniformity, unlike other religions.  That’s the great thing about the Church: oneness in the midst of difference.  And what is our unity centered upon?  None other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church.

I want to be more diligent in praying that the Church would be at the forefront of race reconciliation and social justice.  The world really is watching.

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Wayne Grudem on God’s Presence in Hell

At the end of January, I posted some of my thoughts on hell.  There I argued that hell is not the separation from the presence of God.  I wrote that hell is the “separation of people from the majestic, glorious presence of the Lord.”

To help flesh this out, I think Wayne Grudem’s thoughts from his book Sytematic Theology might help.

The idea of God’s omnipresence has sometimes troubled people who wonder how God can be present, for example, in hell. In fact, isn’t hell the opposite of God’s presence, or the absence of God? This difficulty can be resolved by realizing that God is present in different ways in different places or that God acts differently in different places in his creation. Sometimes God is present to punish. A terrifying passage in Amos vividly portrays this presence of God in judgment:

Not one of them shall flee away,
not one of them shall escape.
Though they dig into Sheol,
from there shall my hand take them;
though they climb up to heaven,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
from there I will search out and take them;
and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And though they go into captivity before their enemies,
there I will command the sword, and it shall slay them;
and I will set my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.
(Amos 9:1–4)


Justification by Faith

Part 7 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

John Stott has said that faith merely receives what grace offers. We are saved by grace, yes, but we must believe (i.e. have faith) in order to be saved.  Grace is God’s doing.  Faith is man’s responsibility.  Romans 3:28 is the staple verse in which Paul boldly proclaims this truth: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Paul writes that Abraham is the father of all those who “walk in the footsteps of [his] faith” (Rom. 4:12). He later says, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (4:13); Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (4:21); “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).

In Galatians 2 and 3, he tells us more of the same. “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:17). “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (3:6, 7, 9). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (3:13, 14), “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26).

Another way to describe faith is to say that someone “believes.” When you believe, you essentially put your trust in someone or something. When you believe, you are convinced of something (see Rom. 4:21 above; cf. Heb. 11:1). Galatians 3:22 says, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise of faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”  It seemed best to God to ordain all people under the curse of sin so that we could not achieve righteousness before him by the law. Paul echoes this in Romans 4: “Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (vv. 24-25). Later on in Romans 10, Paul says that we are justified when we believe with our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead (vv. 9-10).

Some may ask, “What about the Old Testament? They had the law. Certainly they were not justified by faith!” On the contrary, they were. Habakkuk 2:4 says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” This verse is quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:37.

The greatest argument for justification by faith for Old Testament saints is, of course, Abraham. That is who Paul focuses on in Romans 4. He says that Abraham could not have been justified by works because righteousness was counted to him before he was circumcised (v. 10). He says, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still circumcised” (v. 11a). Paul tells us why this happened: “The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (vv. 11b-12). Abraham was saved, not by his works or obedience to be circumcised, but by his faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).

To be continued.