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Reviews

Galatians for You Review

Tim Keller. Galatians for You. Good Book Company, 2013. $15.63 (on Amazon). 199 pp.

Galatians For You

In his newest book, Galatians for You, Tim Keller wants readers to have the powerful message of Galatians explode in their hearts. Why? Galatians is all about the gospel, and the gospel is something everyone needs everyday.

Galatians for You is the first in a series being published by The Good Book company out of the U.K. These books are meant to serve as a guide to understanding books of the Bible, as devotional helps, or as a leader’s guide for preaching or small group study. I’m excited about this, as it looks to be an exciting and beneficial series.

In the simplest terms, Galatians for You is a layman’s commentary of Galatians. Keller tackles a section of Galatians per chapter (the six chapters of Galatians are spread out over thirteen chapters in the book), seeking to draw out the meaning of the text. Thankfully, the contemporary application is not a tack-on at the end of each chapter; rather, applications are helpfully woven throughout the exposition. Every chapter also includes three questions for personal reflection.

Keller includes a short, but insightful introduction to Galatians, and a very handy glossary  that readers will find helpful, particularly if they are unfamiliar with Christianity in general or biblical language in particular. There is also a three-page appendix on the recent debate concerning “the new perspective” on Paul and justification. Academic types may find Keller’s solution too abbreviated, but it is a helpful explanation and the average reader will benefit from its simplicity.

As you would expect, anything produced by Tim Keller is going to have biblical, culturally-aware, gospel-centered content. Galatians for You is no different. Keller hammers home the idea that the gospel is not the ABCs of the Christian life. It is the A-Z of the Christian life. This book makes God-entranced, Bible-based, gospel-soaked material accessible to everyone in the church. Believers and nonbelievers alike will have a clearer picture of the gospel and how it affects every area of life. I highly recommend Galatians for You to you!

Categories
Life

Getting to Christ in the Old Testament

Part 7 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

In the most recent post in our series (back in September!), we talked about how Jesus is the Word made flesh; that is, he is God’s perfect word communicated to humans. In this post, we will examine how to actually “get to Jesus” during a devotional time when reading the Old Testament. A word of caution: this is a long post and some of it may seem “academic.” Hang in there. The fruit that will come from implementing this into your devotions will be worth it.

In Scripture, ultimately Christ is the God-Man who speaks for God; he is the message communicated by God; and he is the only infallible receiver of God’s message and thus serves as our representative and substitute.[1] This changes everything for our study of the Old Testament. Can Christ really be the message communicated in Deuteronomy or Leviticus when you read about pigeons or goat’s blood? Yes. Christians usually see this in bits and pieces. In fact, most only see this in “explicit” prophetic Messianic passages like Isaiah 52-53, Psalm 22, Micah 5, or other famous prophesies quoted in the New Testament.

The average preacher teaches that an Old Testament passage only points to Christ when there is an explicit “type of Christ.” A type (or typology) is “an Old Testament redemptive event, person, or institution that functions as type prefiguring Jesus to Jesus himself by showing the analogies and escalations.”[2] Whether or not you have heard of the word typology, you have probably thought along those lines. You may think that to “get to Christ” in another way might take some acrobatic interpretation or weird allegorizing of a passage. However, if what Jesus said in Luke 24:25-27 is true–that all the law and prophets point to him–we can get to Christ organically from any text.

A key to Scripture interpretation is to remember that the Bible is one, unified story. Stories have themes and tensions and so does the Bible. The main theme in the Bible is that God is creating a people for himself to be ruled by him in his kingdom. The main tension is that because of sin we cannot have relationship with God. Each individual Bible story contributes in its own way to the whole of dramatic tension in Scripture. As you read, you will discover that in each story the tension seems insoluble (think of an exciting movie that leaves you wondering how the hero saves the day). As the plot begins to thicken in each story, our goal is to discover how the tensions are resolved and fulfilled only in Jesus. As Tim Keller points out, “We should look for the questions the text raises to which only Jesus can be the answer.”[3]

Keller and Goldsworthy have helped me to see the broad themes of Scripture and how the tensions in Scripture are only solved in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of what I have below comes from them.[4] Hopefully these meta-themes will help as you seek to find Christ in the Old Testament.

Catch the Broad Themes of Scripture
There are many broad themes that the whole Bible deals with (even the New Testament). These come up implicitly or explicitly in many passages. The first three, especially, are the primary themes that the Old Testament deals with.

  • King and the Kingdom: Every nation needs a good king. A kingdom will not survive without one. The successes and failures of Israel’s leaders show the need for a true and perfect king. Man cannot accomplish this; only the Creator can come and properly rule over his people. Jesus is the liberator king who overwhelms the depth of the brokenness and enslavement we have to sin and brings about a true, everlasting kingdom that is ruled perfectly.
  • Grace and Law: There is a conservative way to read the Old Testament: that God’s love is conditional on obedience. There is a liberal way to read the Old Testament: that God’s love is unconditional because God loves everybody. How can God be holy and still remain faithful? Jesus only resolves this tension. He makes God’s covenant conditional and unconditional. He provides the perfection (the condition) we needed through his death, which invites everyone into relationship with him (unconditional). Notice, too, that the Israelites were saved from Egypt first, then they were given the law at Sinai. In the same way, God saves us by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross, then he calls us to walk in a manner worthy of Christ by growing in holiness.
  • True God vs. Idols: Any good thing that becomes an ultimate thing becomes a god. It is possible to be compliant with the behavioral law yet being idolatrous in the heart. The only way a person and society can be renovated is if a true Beauty captures their hearts more than the lure of idols. Jesus is that true Beauty and Treasure who captures the hearts of his people so that idols are smashed and he is loved.
  • Covenant and Calling: How can man be made right from the heart? God promises a new covenant that will eventually take place of the old. Jesus is the true partner of God who is the faithful Son, who inaugurates a new covenant with his blood, and sends his Holy Spirit in order to empower his people.
  • Worship in the sanctuary/temple: How can people connect with the presence of God? How can we truly worship him and adore his beauty? Christ has come to dwell among us and provides direct access to the Father, because he is the true temple where man meets God.
  • Promised Land and Inheritance: When will God’s people have true rest? The people of God will return to the promised land and be great and the nations will share in the kingdom of Zion. Jesus provides entrance into the new land–the new heavens and new earth. Jesus is the place God’s people long for and he is the light to the nations.
  • Marriage and Faithfulness: God depicts his relationship to his people through the example of marriage. Jesus is the true Bridegroom who sacrificially loves his spouse, wins her love, and presents her to himself as a radiant bride.
  • Image and Likeness: How can we become fully human? The image of God in us is marred and broken because of sin. In his incarnation, Jesus showed us the perfect image of God. In his death and resurrection, Christ provided a way for the image of God in us to be restored.
  • Rest and Sabbath: How can we find harmony in life, with ourselves, and with others?  Sabbath was designed to bring rest because God rested from his work of creation. Christ ultimately brings rest from our good works so that we can have final rest in God’s kingdom..
  • Judgment and Justice: If there were no ultimate judge, what hope would there be for the world? But if there is an ultimate judge, what hope would there be for you and me? Only in Christ can there be hope, because he is the Judge who took our judgment on the cross.
  • Destruction of Israel and Exile: The exile into Babylon will lead to a redemptive act. Israel is restored to their promised land. Ultimately, Jesus goes into exile for his people so that he can lead them out of the captivity of sin and death.

Law-Completion
In this approach, we take one of the many moral or ethical principles and listen very carefully to it. Rather than reading a text and thinking, “Oh, I should not gossip,” only to white-knuckle it all day at the office, we must see how Christ has fulfilled the principle as our representative and substitute. Why? Because if we listen honestly and thoroughly to these principles, we realize that it is simply impossible to keep them! We can’t explain why we should not steal unless we look at Jesus’ ultimate generosity who did not think it wise to stay in heaven but rather became poor for your sake. We can’t explain why we should not commit adultery unless we look at the faithfulness and jealous love Jesus has shown to us on the cross. His jealous love does not only define sexual fidelity, but it gives us the only sufficient motive and power to practice it ourselves. Jesus is not simply the ultimate example, but as the one who fulfills these morals and ethics for us, he is the only one who can change our hearts, by his Spirit, to be obedient to God’s commands.

A Few More Helpful Hints
Anytime you read a story in the Bible about how God uses backwards means to accomplish his purposes, you are seeing the gospel in action. God chooses Joseph and David, the youngest in the family; he uses Ruth, a Gentile woman, and Rahab, a Gentile prostitute in a male-dominated culture; he elects Abram to start a nation though he was old and fragile and the son of a moon worshiper. Jesus was born in a manger to a teenage mother. He lived a simple life and was executed on a cross. God used the foolishness of the world to bring redemption to his people.

Jesus is also the fulfillment of corporate story lines. Jesus is the true Israel, the Seed of Abraham and God’s true Son (Gal. 3:16-17; cf. Matt. 2:15). He did all that Israel was required to do, but was unable to and did not do. This video also describes well how Jesus is the one who fulfills individual story lines.

One Word of Caution
The temptation now when reading an Old Testament passage is not to figure out what the human author intended. When we are looking for Christ in the text, we are seeking to figure out what the divine author intended. In order to be faithful to Scripture, we must understand both. Ultimately, however, seeing and relishing God’s intention in the message is what will bring about true joy and obedience.

These are categories you simply must think in when you read the Bible, and hopefully this brief survey will help you. I don’t claim to be an expert at this, but it is more fulfilling to read the Old Testament and say, “How does this point to Jesus?” rather than “How does this apply to my life?” It will not be easy at first. The only way to do this well is practice, practice, practice!

In the final post of this series, I will address where the oft-quoted phrase “personal application” fits into your devotion time. Truly though, when you start to read the Old Testament this way–when you see that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything, your complete all-in-all–you will not be able to stop yourself from worshiping God and ultimately growing in sanctification.

Feel free to ask questions and strike up a conversation below so we can dialogue about this and learn from each other.


[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2006), 56-57.
[2] Collin Hansen, “Preaching Christ from the OT: An Interview with Sidney Greidanus,” The Gospel Coalition Blog, 2/17/11 (accessed 12/20/11). For an example, see “the sign of Jonah” in Matthew 12:38-42.
[3] Tim Keller, “Applying Christ: Introduction Into Christ-Centered Application,” in Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World, Lecture 7 (accessed 12/20/11).
[4] Ibid. I have not provided all of Keller’s themes, and even he admits that what he gives in the lecture above is not an exhaustive list of themes and tensions. See also Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 253-256, who lists dozens of what he calls “macro-typologies” which correlate to Keller’s “broad themes.”

Categories
Theology

The Gospel in All of Life

Part 3 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

It is not just enough to know conceptually that every text is a road to Christ. It’s also not enough to know how to set up a devotional time. After all, intellectual knowledge never saved anyone from hell and creating a good devo plan hasn’t either. The only hope for the world is the gospel–the fact that God entered creation in the person of Jesus Christ and has accomplished redemption for his people through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

It’s not uncommon for Christians to “move past” the gospel after initially accepting it. You come to Jesus by faith, they argue, then you need to white-knuckle it and work hard. Some Christians say that the gospel is the “ABCs” of the Christian life. Tim Keller, on the other hand, has said that the gospel is the “A to Z of the Christian life.” The gospel (Gk. evangelion) means “good news.” Why would you ever want to move past good news? Paul asked just that to the Galatians: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and work miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:3, 5).

If the gospel is “good news,” then there must be bad news, right? The bad news is that we cannot have a right relationship with God because we are rotten from the inside out. Even our best deeds are utterly disgusting to God (Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:8). It’s not just an external problem; we do not just do bad things, we are bad (Rom. 3:10-18).

Because of this, the gospel is rooted in God’s self-substitution for sinners. Because we cannot obtain righteousness before God, he must stand in our place as our perfect substitute and obtain “an alien righteousness” for us. God did this through Jesus Christ.

At the center of this self-substitution is the cross. Because our sin is against an infinitely holy God, we deserve infinite, unimaginable condemnation and wrath. Thankfully, Jesus lived the life we should have lived and he died the death we deserve to die. He absorbed the wrath of God for us, and became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). It is on the cross that Jesus exchanged our sin for his righteousness in order that we might be justified (i.e. declared righteous) before God (2 Cor. 5:21).  Those who receive this by faith–not works–are justified (Rom. 3:24-25; see Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Therefore, Jesus is our complete substitute Savior. This is good news.

Unfortunately, this precious doctrine of Christ as our substitute is not held tightly among Christians as it once was. In Don’t Call It a Comeback, Greg Gilbert writes, “I’m convinced that part of the reason many evangelicals have begun to lose their grasp on the cross is that we have lost sight of why we need to be saved. We’ve forgotten, and even in some cases deliberately disregarded, what sin is and how profound is its offense to God” (74).

Up to this point, I’m sure a few of you have wondered what this all has to do with having a devotional time. It has everything to do with a devotional time! Gilbert brings us back to our times in God’s word. The first step to a life void of the gospel is to forget or disregard how awful our sin is. Martin Luther once said that a Christian’s entire life is one of repentance. When the gospel is the lens through which we see life, we keep our hope in Jesus and stay repentant.

In turn, if the gospel is not the lens through which we see all of life, we will not be repentant, and will never have a disciplined, ongoing devotional life. If the gospel is the “ABC’s” of the Christian life, your devotional times will eventually become more and more about you and less and less about God. This will lead to one of two outcomes. First, it may lead to self-righteousness. Every passage will be a avenue for you to ride off on your high horse because you succeed (most of the time) at keeping the rules more often than your family and friends. Second, it may lead to utter despair. Verses and chapters will be horrific constructions of condemnation because you just can’t seem to muster up the motivation or ability to obey.

But if the gospel is your “A to Z”–your only righteousness and plea before God–I contend that your devotional times, though not perfect, will be healthy, vibrant, and full of Christ. Verses, chapters, and books will be avenues to a world greater than yourself because they will point you away from yourself and toward God. What the psalmist prayed will actually happen: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” (Ps. 119:36). The Scriptures (even the Old Testament!) will show you the depth of your sin and the greatness of your need, yet at the same time the power and sufficiency of your substitute Savior and conquering King.

Jesus and his gospel must be your sole source of righteousness before God. The sin in our lives is a failure to fully believe the gospel. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 that God will repay with affliction “those who do not obey the gospel.” To obey the gospel means to believe its truth and efficacy in your life. When I am harsh with my wife, I fail to believe that God has given me grace instead of wrath, though my sin against God is infinitely greater than anything my wife could do to me.  When I exalt myself, I fail to believe that I am perfectly accepted in God’s eyes through Christ and do not need to seek man’s praise. When I lust, get greedy or envious, or comfort myself with food or TV, I fail to believe that Christ is my all-sufficient Treasure and that he alone is worthy of my utmost affections.

If this is your perspective on the Christian life, your devotional times will be marinated with the gospel. You must think this way, and if you don’t (or don’t think you can) you must ask God to be gracious and help you. I don’t always think this way. My life is a continual battle to believe the gospel. Often I feel like the father of the demon possessed boy who cried, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The only hope for your life–and for your devotions–is the gospel. When you find yourself lost in the deep waters of Scripture during a quiet time in the morning, don’t look for a command to obey or a spiritual nugget to get you through lunch time. Those will do as much good as a paddle without a boat and an arm floatie on an elephant. Climb aboard the unsinkable ship of the gospel of God’s grace, revealed fully in his Son Jesus Christ.

Categories
Theology

Jesus: True and Better

Categories
Reviews Theology

The Reason for God (Chapter 2)

These are direct quotes from the book. If it is my paraphrase, it will marked by an asterisk (*) after the page number.

Chapter 2: How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be [a God]. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order. (23-24)

If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know. Indeed, you can’t have it both ways. (25)

From C.S. Lewis:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?…What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. (26)

Therefore, though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. (28)

Jesus, the God-man, underwent more evil and suffering than we could ever imagine, and he bore the agony of death on the cross. Therefore, we truly know God is Immanuel (God with us) even in our worst sufferings. (31*)

For the one who suffers, the Christian faith provides as a resource not just its teaching on the Cross but also the fact of the resurrection. The Bible teaches that the future is not an immaterial “paradise” but a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21, we do not see human beings being taken out of this world into heaven, but rather heaven coming down and cleansing, renewing, and perfecting this material world….Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and the Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with  a powerful hope. It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation. (32, 33)

From C.S. Lewis:

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. (34)