You Can’t Hide What You Believe about God

In one of his journal entries, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the significance the family plays in the lives of the children of believers. In a section entitled, “The greatest danger for a child, where religion is concerned,” Kierkegaard wrote:

The greatest danger is not that his father or tutor should be a free-thinker, not even his being a hypocrite. No, the danger lies in his being a pious, God-fearing man, and in the child being convinced thereof, but that he should nevertheless notice that deep in his soul there lies hidden an unrest which, consequently, not even the fear of God and piety could calm. The danger is that the child in this situation is almost provoked to draw a conclusion about God, that God is not infinite love.

Following this, I read a couple of interesting sentences from the well-known theologian Sinclair Ferguson, where he said:

We cannot hide what we really believe God is like. Our personal disposition is an unending expression of our understanding of and trust in his character. How we live, how we respond to challenges, crises and trials, reveals what we really believe about God, what we really think “deep down” about him.

Then I started to think about some of the Christians I’ve come in contact with throughout my life. And then I considered my own behavior and what it might reveal about God. And then I ponder what my behavior is instilling in my children.

Generally it seems true that what a person believes about God is expressed in their behavior. Those who believe God is gracious and forgiving tend to be gracious and forgiving. In contrast, those who are stern, critical, overly judgmental, and plain old unhappy, tend to view God as harsh, unloving, and unkind. Perhaps this is an overstatement, but as I’ve gotten to know people, and have been privileged to hear their stories, when their defenses come down, those who are unhappy and angry seem to have a sub-biblical vision of God.

When I look back over my life and think of the various seasons God has taken me through, I am embarrassed about my past behavior. I don’t think my behavior rightly expressed the joy, love, and grace of God. Thankfully, a number of years ago God brought me to the end of myself. During that time, God met me in my hour of need, and it was in that instance that God’s love was made real to me in a way it previously had  not been.

As I think about what my behavior says to my children, I am reminded that, with our children, more is “caught” than “taught.” I can teach my children about God, Jesus, and the Bible all I want. I can teach them about how we shouldn’t worry and judge others; I can teach them about love, forgiveness, and grace. I can say that attending church, reading the Bible, giving, and showing hospitality is important, but if my actions say otherwise, it’s all hot air. Our children (and all human beings) are more than brains on a stick. We have imaginations that need to be captured by God’s majestic grace. We have affections that need to be stirred by the beauty of Christ and the life he calls us to live. None of this happens over night. We need to put practices into place that lead to new patterns of living, issuing forth in new habits that permanently shape and form our lives.

In so doing, I suspect that our character will begin to change. Our habits shape and form the type of people we become. As we make space in our lives to digest God’s Word through personal Bible reading and church attendance, as well as set aside time to meditate on what we’ve read and heard, we trust that the fruit of the Spirit will evidence itself in our lives in practical ways.

The Gift of Memory

“Great is the power of memory, exceeding great is it, O God, an inner chamber vast and unbounded!” ~ Augustine (354-430)[1]

“It is more important that we should remember God than that we should breathe: Indeed, if one may say so, we should do nothing else besides” ~ Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390)[2]_______________________________________________________________

I remember my first day of kindergarten. I remember the first time I lied to my father. I remember celebrating Christmas with my extended family in south Florida. I remember the first time I saw my wife, Debra.

Have you ever paused to thank God for the gift of memory? Are you amazed that God allows you to remember certain events from your past—a beautiful sunset, the smile of a child, or maybe a word or phrase from a loved one?

God wants us to remember. He wants us to remember that we are loved. He wants us to remember that we’ve been redeemed. And he wants us to remember the singular blessings of our lives—those moments when, perhaps even with tears, we’ve said, “Wow, God is good.”

But what does this look like in our daily lives? I think Professor Scott Redd is on to something when he says, “Faithful memory is covenantal memory.”[3] By this he means that memory is “a righteous habit of mind,”[4] wherein we recall God’s words and promises from the past that encourage and instruct us in the present and furnish us with hope for the future.

Faithful (or covenantal) memory reminds us that God has spoken to us, and calls to mind the fact that his communication with us has been via promise and fulfillment.

Here’s what this involves: A righteous habit of mind involves living under the authority of God’s Word. God promised Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree they would die (Gen. 2:16-17). Apparently Eve either forgot God’s Word to her or was unconvinced. Faithful (or covenantal) memory calls to mind each day the reality that God has spoken, feeds on God’s Word (Deut. 8:3; cf. Matt. 4:4), and seeks to live under it. Looking back on redemptive history reminds us that God wants us to live under his word. He sent prophets to his people to call them to repentance, urging them to obey the law, and turn back to his ways—that is, to remember that he had spoken (Jer. 6:16).[5] Each time we open up the Bible we’re reminded that God is a communicative being who seeks to share his life and love with us.

Secondly, a righteous habit of mind involves remembering our dependent status. Simply put, this means realizing that we’re not God. Yes, we’ve been created in his image (Gen. 1:26); yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14); yes, we’ve been “brilliantly created”; but because of the Fall we’re also “brilliantly destructive.”[6] We’re desperately broken on the inside. Although we were created to put God at the center of our lives and joyfully surrender to his lordship, we would rather usurp his authority and assert our own will.[7] We foolishly assume that his authority over us is an impediment to our authenticity, failing to realize that the precondition for living an authentic life requires that we know who made us and why he created us.

I am aware that the previous sentence is not shared by all. To be sure, it brings into focus a competing narrative of our culture: Whose definition of freedom and human flourishing is most desirable? Whereas secularists locate freedom “in an individual subject’s spontaneous power of choice,”[8] the Bible defines freedom as “glad submission to the will of God.”[9] Embracing our dependent, servant status means a life of humility and surrender—a life of faith seeking understanding.

Finally, a righteous habit of mind involves living with expectancy. By living with expectancy I mean living with eternity in mind. Living with eternity in mind leads to making wiser decisions (Ps. 90:12). The wisest decision of all is abandoning oneself to the triune God. Abandoning oneself to the triune God is the wisest decision of all because he is the only one who can satisfy the longing soul (Ps. 107:9 et. al.). Sin, therefore, is preferring other things to the Lover of our Souls. Well did John Piper say, “Sin is trying to quench our unquenchable soul-thirst anywhere but in God.”[10] Every fiber of our being yearns to behold God’s beauty and dwell in his presence (Ps. 27:4). Sadly, sin blinds us to God’s beauty, which in turn leads us to choose a life of sin—a life filled with lesser beauty.[11]

Living with expectancy, however, constrains us by reminding us of what awaits us: “Your eyes will behold the King in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17a). Every tear will be wiped from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). In the new creation “no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’” (Isa. 33:24). With this vision firmly in mind, we prefer death to the denial of Christ; obedience to Christ over the passing pleasures of this world. With this vision firmly in mind we can say with the men who were taken to their deaths in Fidel Castro’s concentration camps, “Viva Cristo Rey!”[12]

Faithful memory is covenantal memory. God has spoken. Therefore, let me memorize his Word. God has spoken. Therefore, let me meditate on his promises. God has spoken. Therefore, let my imagination be captivated by what awaits me. Tolle Lege.

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[1] The Confessions of St. Augustine (trans. John K. Ryan; NY: Doubleday, 1960), 10. 8. 5.

[2] On God and Christ (trans. Frederick Williams; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2002), 27-28.

[3] Scott Redd, “What Should We Remember?” Tabletalk 40:12 (December 2016): 17.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] John L. Mackay, “Spokesmen for God,” Tabletalk 37:11 (November 2013): 18.

[6] Language borrowed from Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), xi.

[7] Peter J. Gentry, “Kingdom through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12 (2008): 16-42.

[8] See David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 226.

[9] Peter F. Jensen, “God and the Bible,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 495.

[10] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 81.

[11] Augustine, Confessions, 2. 5. 10; 2. 6. 13, 14.

[12] Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag (trans. Andrew Hurley; San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2001), 15.

 

Reflections on the Fall of Man: A Miscellany on Autonomy, Lordship, and Sanctification

Like many Christians, the New Year means I once again begin reading through the Bible—from beginning to end. Starting at the beginning, therefore, means reading the account of the Fall recorded in Genesis 3. As I read through the chapter, I once more found myself engrossed in the story.

Let’s remind ourselves of what we read: Satan comes to Eve and asks, “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?” “Of course we may eat it,” the woman told him. It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die. [Note that she misquotes God’s word to her]” “You won’t die!” the serpent hissed. “God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil” (Gen. 31-5, NLT).

In verse 6 we read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (ESV, emphasis added). What went wrong? Sinclair Ferguson’s analysis is dead-on: “The serpent’s tactic was to lead her [Eve] into seeing and interpreting the world through her eyes (what she saw when she looked at the tree) rather than through her ears (what God had said about it).”[1] What did God say about it? “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen. 2:16-17, ESV).

What made Adam and Eve’s sin so heinous? Above all, in light of God’s Word to Adam and Eve, their response is a quest for moral and epistemological autonomy.[2] Read carefully how J. I. Packer describes what took place. In the Fall, he says,

Man accepted the invitation to pursue wisdom by constructing a private interpretation of life out of the resources of his own independent judgment. He sought intellectual self-sufficiency, ability to solve all life’s problems without reference to the word of God. . . . Pride, and more particularly intellectual pride, was thus the root sin.”[3]

To reiterate: The sin of Adam and Eve was a quest for moral and epistemological autonomy. This involved interpreting life based upon what they saw, rather than submitting to God’s Word. Why is this such a big deal? Here’s the answer: Given that God is the Creator and we are the creature, we are not entitled to begin with the self. Given that he is the Creator and we are the creature, we are not free to construct a private interpretation of life. “Any claim to autonomy relative to God is mere pretense,” to quote Scott Clark.[4]

I am fully aware that these comments are not in step with the culture. Most likely some people reading this find the above analysis grotesque, manipulative, restrictive, and oppressive. Yet I want to assert (with some force) that it is freeing, liberating. How so? Allow me to explain.

First, all reasoning is subject to some kind of criterion. Everyone has a standard. Furthermore, as John Frame points out, “If we reject God as our norm, we must find another (rationalism) or despair of knowledge (skepticism).”[5] Renouncing one’s intellectual self-sufficiency, therefore, is not oppressive; on the contrary it is freeing. God has spoken and his Word is our norm. We are not left to our own devices. For our part, then, freedom is found in recognizing that we are creatures and then living in line with our dependent status. This brings me to my second point.

Secondly, because he is our Designer and Creator, God’s commands lead to liberation, not enslavement. In other words, God’s commands are not “busywork”: “To break them is to violate your own nature and to lose freedom, just like a person who eats the wrong foods and ends up in a hospital.”[6] Thus, if Clark’s statement above that “Any claim to autonomy relative to God is mere pretense” seems harsh, understand that this evaluation is grounded in humanity’s telos, that is, the purpose of human existence. His judgment is anchored in biblical revelation and is consonant with a biblical-theological account of humanity: “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). This means that as created, dependent beings, we are not free to decide what is right and wrong. Instead, wise living means looking to God for guidance, receiving his Word, and living in the “fear of the LORD” (Prov. 1:7; cf. Ps. 123:1-2).

Finally, nothing I have said here is intended to be pessimistic about humanity. In fact, postmodern authors’ view of humanity is far bleaker than the biblical record, leaving no possibility for meaningful communication, meaning in life, human dignity, or justice. (One of the great ironies of our day is that the purveyors of moral relativism are often the same people issuing passionate pleas for others to engage in the work of social justice, seemingly unaware that their worldview cannot make sense of their pleas.)[7]

Still, we ask: Where do we go from here? What does this mean for you and me? The answer is as simple as it is profound: We look to Jesus Christ—the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45): “The first Adam was tested in the God-blessed garden and fell. The Second Adam was tested in the God-cursed desert, and won.”[8] The heart of the second and last Adam is the heart we all desperately need. It’s the kind of heart that can say without guile, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (Jn. 4:34). It’s the kind of heart that says with authenticity, “Behold, I have come to do your will” (Ps. 40:7; cf. Heb. 10:9). God’s desire is for his image-bearers to joyfully abandon themselves to him without hesitation or reservation.[9] Such a heart accurately reflects the dependence our createdness demands. Hence, Jesus is the true human: “He is humanity as it should be.”[10]

Amazingly, the Bible tells us that in the gift of regeneration, we have been given in a new heart (Ezek. 36:26-27). Because of the work of Christ, we have been declared right with God (Rom. 5:1; 8:1); we’ve been adopted into God’s family (Gal. 4:1-7); we’re secure in his love (Jn. 10:27-29); and we have his promise that he will complete his work in our lives (Phil. 1:6). We are slaves no longer: neither to ourselves, nor our appetites, or others. Indeed, the declaration “You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19) is not a declaration “of infringement but of emancipation.”[11] Our union with Christ gives us a new identity. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Wise living involves receiving God’s revelation and orienting our lives accordingly. This posture follows logically from the fact that God, in his grace, has communicated with us, making known his will and his ways. In regeneration God has given us new hearts that “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6), leading believers to avail themselves to the means of grace as well as develop gospel-shaped habits. Therefore, we are people of hope, knowing that God will restore his image in us, forming Christlike character in us, and, in turn, restore our humanity.

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[1] Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 72.

[2] Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 63.

[3] J. I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (1958; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 139.

[4] R. Scott Clark, “Whosoever Will Be Saved: Emerging Church, Meet Christian Dogma,” in Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, eds. Gary L. W. Johnson & Ronald N. Gleason (Wheaton: Crossway), 37.

[5] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 124.

[6] Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (New York: Viking, 2016), 115.

[7] See further Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality,” in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath & Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 141-161.

[8] Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 41.

[9] See further Michael Horton, “Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice,” in The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant, eds. Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009), 315-336. See esp. 316.

[10] Paul Miller, Love Walked among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2014), 191.

[11] Ivor J. Davidson, “Gospel Holiness: Some Dogmatic Reflections,” in Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice, ed. Kelly M. Kapic (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 210.

Top Ten Quotes of 2016

Ten quotes to ponder as we near the end of 2016:

“Evil—and complicity with evil—is usually done under the cover of numerous rationalizations that declare the evil to be everything but what it is” – Shelby Steele, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country (47).

“Thoughtful Christians who sincerely seek to base their beliefs on the Scriptures will be a little nervous if the beliefs they think are biblical form no part of the major streams of tradition throughout the history of the church; and therefore, historical theology, though it cannot in itself justify a belief system, not only sharpens the categories and informs the debate but serves as a major checkpoint to help us prevent uncontrolled speculation, purely private theological articulation, and overly imaginative exegesis” – D. A. Carson, “Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture,” (73) in Collected Writings on Scripture.

“We do not negotiate what we want for reality. God defines reality” – John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin (116).

“A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine” – Marilynne Robinson, Gilead: A Novel (6).

“Living now constantly in the shadow of unwanted, built-in, automatic utopianism, we are constantly confronted with issues whose positive choice requires supreme wisdom—an impossible, and in particular for contemporary man, who denies the very existence of its object: viz., objective value and truth. We need wisdom most when we believe in it least” – Hans Jonas, “Technology and Responsibility on the New Task of Ethics,” in Society, Ethics, and Technology (130).

“Deconstructionist analysis and an enshrined relativism make of every phenomenon but a ghostly apparition, dependent upon the interpreter for meaning. . . . The only certainty in this plastic process is the critic, endowed with the empowering insight to realize that all meaning (except, of course, that which the critic discerns) is a chimera. Nothing could be more despotic than this ‘democracy of meaning,’ for in it the Western critic controls the process by which meaning itself is to be discerned. The apostles of ‘diversity’ control the processes by which thought itself is to be judged as ‘valid.’ Thus Western secular intellectuals use the mind in much the same way as the Western news media use the camera: selectively, and with the conviction that the tool confers existence itself upon that on which it focuses” – Anthony Ugolnik, “Living at the Borders: Eastern Orthodoxy and the World Disorder,” First Things 34 (June/July 1993): 16.

A response to those who say no religion has the whole truth: “How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?” Tim Keller, The Reason for God (9). In his prequel to this volume, Keller notes, “[E]ven our most rigorous rational thinking is shot through with various forms of faith.” Keller cites philosopher Michael Polanyi’s article “The Critique of Doubt,” where Polanyi argues that doubt and belief are ultimately equivalent because (in Polanyi’s words), “The doubting of any explicit statement . . . denies [one] belief . . . in favor of other beliefs which are not doubted for the time being.” Thus the conclusion: “So, for example, you cannot say, ‘No one can know enough to be certain about God and religion,’ without assuming at that moment that you know enough about the nature of religious knowledge to be certain about that” – See Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (38).

On professors who espouse postmodern ideas and insist that language is incapable of communicating truth: “If the professors really believed it, they’d just keep quiet” – Bruce S. Thornton, Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (48). Hence, I have to give Philip Gorski credit for telling the truth: “Our own relativism is rarely as radical as [our] theory requires” (See his essay “Where Do Morals Come From?” online.

“The only good Protestant is a catholic Protestant—one who learns from, and bears fruit for, the whole church” – Kevin Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (33).

“Salvation is not grounded in the believer’s being like Christ, but rather being forgiven ‘in Christ’” – Richard Lints, “Living by Faith—Alone? Reformed Responses to Antinomianism,” in Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice (43).

My Top Ten Books of 2016–And Three Articles

Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance—Why The Marrow Controversy Still Matters. 

A theologically rich yet pastorally sensitive treatise. The casual reader may be intimidated by the title of this book, but please: Don’t let that stop you! Ferguson takes the reader on a journey back to the 18th century into a small Scottish parish. Along the way he brings to light the background information necessary to make sense of a theological controversy that erupted due to the republication of The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Trust me, this is much more than a piece of arcane theological reflection; it is highly practical. Ferguson exhibits the best of what a pastor-theologian is to be. I would highly recommend this book to every Christian, but pastors will be especially helped by reading this monograph.

Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.

Levin offers a brief yet thorough overview of American politics since World War II, and argues that frustration in the political arena stems from both parties—Democrats and Republicans—suffering from nostalgia. Both parties are offering the American public nothing more than reruns of past agendas. This infatuation with midcentury prescriptions fails to take into account America’s unique cultural moment, leading to a misdiagnosis of present problems, which then leads to misguided solutions. Although Levin’s arguments require some familiarity with political science and economics, I’m sure novices can make do. If you keep a dictionary close by, you’ll be just fine. This was a fascinating read. I can see why scholars on both the Right and the Left have given this book such a high marks.

Steven D. Smith, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse.

The bottom line is this: words like “justice,” “equality,” “dignity,” and, yes, even the phrase “unalienable rights,” are all empty concepts. They mean absolutely nothing until we define what they mean, explain why they are valuable, and unpack how we justify holding our views. In other words, when we say, “All human beings should be treated with dignity and respect,” Smith will ask you to answer the questions, “Why? Where do you get this idea that human beings should be treated with ‘dignity’? What does ‘dignity’ mean?” In asking such questions, Smith forces readers to see that such questions cannot be answered from a secular standpoint. This is because “A comprehensively naturalistic worldview cancels itself out” (199). Smith doesn’t stop there, however. The point he wants to emphasize is that “most of us really believe in a realm of value that cannot be adequately accounted for in purely naturalist terms” (204). As the late philosopher Hans Jonas noted, “You can’t have ethics without metaphysics.” Jonas’s (and Smith’s) observations reveal the inadequacy of our discussions over “culture war” issues and related topics. Smith argues that we need to stop “smuggling” our metaphysics into ethical discussions and be honest about what we’re doing (even if we can’t justify our essentially “religious” beliefs). In fact, Smith urges us to bring religion into our conversations. While he admits that this might lead to some heated discussions, he thinks it’s worth it because it will force us to deal with our actual differences.

J. I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles.

 It’s hard to believe this book was published in 1958. Perhaps what’s even harder to believe is how relevant Packer’s book is up to the present day. In the course of the work Packer defines “fundamentalism” and “liberalism,” and then looks at the issues of authority, Scripture, faith, and reason. While reading this book may not cause a person to embrace the authority and integrity of the Scriptures, it at least makes clear where each side stands. The book does not advance any new thesis, but it’s a must-read for those interested in the doctrine of Scripture.

David Powlison, Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community.

Much wisdom, much insight, much practical application is found in Speaking Truth in Love. While not a “how-to” book, describing the ins and outs of observation, diagnosing, and prescribing a course of action intended to lead to personal healing and renewal in the classical sense, Powlison provides readers with a thoroughly biblical analysis of human personality and offers key ingredients that will lead counselors in the right direction in offering wise counsel. This begins with properly understanding human beings—creatures made in the image of God who by design are dependent beings. God has invaded our world with his revelation, the Bible. God speaks to us through his Word and also show us how to speak to him through his Word. This provides comfort as well as serves as a resource for how to live our daily lives. God has not left us hopeless; instead, Christ comes to us clothed in the gospel and repentant sinners find forgiveness in his life, death, and resurrection. Understanding this reality serves counselors well, as they realize that they are very much like the people they counsel—broken and in need of forgiveness. These “wounded healers” must prayerfully seek to provide counselees with counsel that is faithful to the Bible as well as connected to real life. Much of counseling is learning how to do just this.

Tim Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.

Keller calls this book a “prequel” to his former work The Reason for God. Since the release of Reason Keller has been engaged in many discussions with various kinds of people, leading him to see the necessity of laying some groundwork before getting to the ideas propounded in his earlier volume. For example, in chapter two of Making Sense of God he has a chapter entitled, “Isn’t religion based on faith and secularism on evidence?” Following this chapter Keller deals with topics like suffering, joy not based on circumstances, the harm principle, and the problem of identity. In sum, Keller makes good on what he sets out to do: thoroughly deconstruct all other worldviews and demonstrate that Christianity is not only coherent, but the most desirable worldview of all.

Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.

This book was released soon after the Obergefell decision. Anderson’s goal is to provide a definition of marriage and then demonstrate what the consequences will be of redefining marriage. Without referencing any religion or appealing to any sacred text, Anderson defines marriage as a comprehensive, exclusive, and permanent union of one man and one woman ordered toward procreation. Since the law teaches, shapes ideas, and influences what people do, Anderson argues that the law could not remain neutral forever. Given that marriage is not defined in the Constitution, however, unelected justices should not have been the ones making this decision. As he states at one point in the book, “Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be” (67). That said, now that the law has changed, Anderson goes on to make plain how the Obergefell decision will make it more difficult for people to live out the dictates of their consciences. Furthermore, he shows why sexual orientation is not like race, and hence why the comparison should stop being made. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the comparison will continue.) Another consequence of redefining marriage will be its affect on children. Regardless of what people will say, most social scientists agree (all agreed prior to the sexual revolution) that children do better with a mother and a father. Nevertheless, I wonder how much longer we will hear about the importance of fathers being involved in the lives of their children, given that proponents of the sexual revolution now argue that there is no real difference between male and female.

Harry Schaumburg, False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction. This book was required reading for a class I took on pastoral counseling. Although it deals specifically with sexual addiction, the truths communicated apply to all of life. In my experience, most people never pause to consider how they relate to food, alcohol, work, shopping, or Internet use. More often than not, when people feel a strong compulsion, they simply give in and view their behavior as normal. Instant gratification is part of American culture. We’re not good at waiting. Even if you don’t struggle with any addiction, this book will help you understand yourself. As a pastor, I’m often shocked by the lack of time people devote to understanding themselves—why they do what they do, say what they say, think how they think, respond how they respond, etc. The lack of self-awareness can be shocking at times. This book may not answer all your questions, but I think Schaumburg delivers on his goal: “The best I can offer is to help you move closer to God.”

Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag. I purchased this book prior to Fidel Castro’s death. Nevertheless, his death prompted me to begin reading Valladares’s memoir sooner than anticipated. I knew the sordid details of his arrest, imprisonment, and torture would challenge my ability to finish the book, but I was determined to press on. Without giving away all the details, Valladares was arrested for opposing Castro’s communist regime. He and his fellow prisoners were beaten mercilessly, tortured repeatedly, and forced to live in inhumane conditions—all with a view to getting them to accept communism. On one occasion Vallardares and two of his compatriots escaped, but were captured two days later. For this attempt they were thrown into solitary confinement for close to six months. Rather than giving them water to drink, the guards would pour their own urine and feces into their cells and force them to live in this condition. Through it all, Valladares kept his faith in Christ and credits God with giving him the strength to endure this most difficult trial. Many of his fellow prisoners opposed communism due to their Christian convictions. Tragically, many of them were killed. In perhaps the most moving section of the book, Valladaras recalls the words his fellow brothers in Christ would shout as they were headed to their execution: Viva Cristo Rey!

 Paul J. Silvia, How to Write A Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. As a first year PhD student, I know tons of writing assignments await me—book reviews, research papers, and class lectures. When a professor recommended this book to me, I resolved to purchase it ASAP. And I’m glad I did. My main takeaway is that I must make a writing schedule and stick to it. I must guard my study time with a blowtorch. Silvia provides readers with an important life lesson: You don’t find time, you allot time in order to accomplish tasks. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Favorite Articles of the Year:

Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law” (Duke Law Journal 1979).

Similar to The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse and Hans Jonas’s thesis highlighted above, Leff argues that ethical evaluations cannot be binding unless they have “supernatural grounding.” We may wax eloquent on why we think certain laws are just or unjust, but these can be nothing more than opinions unless we appeal to a higher authority. If we can’t appeal to a transcendent realm, Leff says every person is free to respond with what he calls “the grand sez who?” Leff concludes by bemoaning these circumstances:

 “As things now stand, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless:
Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved.
Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot—and General Custer too—have earned salvation.
Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
There is in the world such a thing as evil.
[All together now:] Sez who?
God help us.”

Gina Dalfonzo, “‘An Odd Sort of Mercy’: Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle Melton, and The End of the Affair.”

Dalfonzo tackles the skewed and self-interpreting definition of love running rampant in our culture. Two popular evangelical authors came out in support of gay marriage this year: Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Doyle Melton. (After Melton’s divorce to her husband she posted a picture of herself with her new girlfriend–well-known soccer player Abby Wambach.) Dalfonzo succinctly summarized the words of many affirming Christians: “If God is love, then the more love, the better.” Dalfonzo responded: “The idea sounds good, yes—but it also asks us to overlook some significant truths about the nature and limits of love, as well as God’s desire and calling for His people.” Here’s my favorite section of the article:

“Evangelical Christians have fallen too much into the habit of believing God exists to affirm our deepest desires, whether material or sexual. We have forgotten that sometimes God, for reasons of His own, calls us to nail our desires to that ugly, painful, bitter cross. But the mystery of Christianity is that what dies is also raised again to life. Resting in his mystery of the paradox of faith: that God has our greatest good in mind when He calls us to the cross.

Tim Keller, “Why Does Anyone Become a Christian?”

Again, this is classic Keller: “If a religion is not different from the surrounding culture, if it does not critique and offer an alternative to it, it dies because it is seen as unnecessary. If Christians today were also famous for and marked by social chastity, generosity and justice, multi-ethnicity, and peace making — would it not be compelling to many? Ironically, Christians were ‘out of step’ with the culture on sex to begin with, and it was not the church but the culture that eventually changed.”

 

 

Biblical Authority after Babel: Book Review

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity.

Introduction: When two Christians disagree over how a passage in the Bible is to be interpreted, how can they go about adjudicating whose interpretation is correct? Furthermore, both are in agreement about Scripture’s authority—its veracity, infallibility, and inerrancy. Do they simply agree that they’ve reached an impasse and move on with their day? What is the way forward?

Enter Kevin Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Informed readers will be familiar with the name, most likely aware of other books he has authored, such as Faith Speaking Understanding and The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach, among numerous others. In this volume, Vanhoozer enters into a discussion that has long plagued Protestants: How do they go about resolving interpretive disagreements? One of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation was sola Scriptura, but did sola Scriptura unleash chaos on the church? Further, is the Reformation the cause of secularism?[1]

Vanhoozer seeks to move the discussion forward by retrieving the five solas of the Reformation. His goal, as he puts it, is to “retrieve Protestant insights to address the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism” (23). He argues that the solas, properly understood, do not lead to interpretive chaos, but instead bring unity to the church. This unity, however, does not mean uniformity; it does not mean that all Christians will come together to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Rather, it will result in “mere Protestant Christianity.” While choosing to pass over the differences between Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, Vanhoozer does engage Roman Catholicism.

Summary of Argument and Contents: During the Reformation, the Church of Rome argued (and still argues) that authority was to be found in the Bible, tradition, and the Magisterium. The Reformers responded by insisting that authority was found in Scripture alone. However, “Scripture alone” did not necessarily mean “Scripture independent of church tradition” (111); it never meant Scripture was to be “taken in isolation from the Church or the rule of faith.”[2] Understood in this light, the Reformers were right to emphasize the priority of the Bible. Only Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), not the church’s tradition, whether written or unwritten.

Vanhoozer anchors God’s revelation in the “economy of grace,” which he says “effectively rebuts the charge that the Reformers ‘naturalized’ biblical interpretation” (71). God’s grace is not only demonstrated in his self-disclosure, but also manifested in illumination. In his grace, then, God will work to bring the church into agreement on the core matters of the gospel (62-63). He then appropriates the Reformation principle of sola fide, calling for “epistemic conscientiousness,” or humility, when listening to others who may have interpretive disagreements with us.

Solus Christus is explained in its historical context and retrieved for the present. Vanhoozer argues that although the church is one in Christ, it need not be one in organizational unity. In other words, denominations need not be seen in a negative light or deleterious to achieving unity. Rather, each local church is authorized by Christ “to preserve the integrity of the gospel,” and each local church has been given “its own set of house keys” (233), the keys being a reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18. This means that each congregation has authority to render interpretive judgments on secondary issues (175).

Soli Deo Gloria is retrieved for the purpose of highlighting the potential good that can come from Protestantism’s fragmentation. In short, Vanhoozer argues that the multiplicity of denominations within evangelicalism isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it causes Christians to go back to the Bible, study it in community, and work to bring understanding across denominational lines. He envisions Christians from different theological traditions coming together in a conference to better understand each other’s positions, listening with patience and grace, and working together for the good of the church and the world.

 Strengths: The book is typical Vanhoozer. He’s witty, and the usual pithy statements are peppered throughout the work. You will find yourself laughing and smiling while you read. You will be challenged and stimulated.

Weaknesses: All this notwithstanding, you may feel, as I did, that you didn’t really get the answer you wanted. At certain points Vanhoozer takes a long time to make his case, and I seriously question whether any of his proposals will help resolve actual interpretive differences. To be sure, the catholicity of the church and the rule of faith outlined many years ago by Irenaeus and other fathers is not in question.[3] Similarly, his call for Christians to display the fruit of the Spirit is warranted and admirable.

Nevertheless, one wonders how many of these “canonical conferences” as he calls them, are Christians supposed to sit through before we conclude that, despite our love for our brothers and sisters from other traditions, we still think they’re wrong? Vanhoozer gives his answer: It’s a “never-ending conference” (233).

Conclusion: In general, I found this to be an enjoyable read. I have no doubt that readers will be stimulated to further reflect on interpretive differences within the church and how best to resolve those differences. Nevertheless, we must wait and see whether Vanhoozer’s vision will become a reality. That said, given that his aim was to argue for “mere Protestant Christianity,” it’s hard to say he didn’t accomplish his goal.

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[1] A good summary of the arguments can be found in Ronald K. Rittgers, “Blame It on Luther,” Christian Century 130:2 (2013): 26-29.

[2] Keith A Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001), 305. D. H. Williams noted years ago that “the Reformation was not about Scripture verses tradition but about reclaiming the ancient Tradition versus traditions” (Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 176).

[3] On the “Rule of Faith” more generally, see Williams’s work above, Retrieving the Tradition, 88. Also Williams’s Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 67-80; and D. Jeffrey Bingham, “Evangelicals, Irenaeus, and the Bible,” in The Free Church & The Early Church: Bridging the Historical and Theological Divide (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 27-46.

Growth in the Christian Life, Part III

Today we conclude our three part series on the Christian life. Having looked at the traditional “means of grace,” today I’ll consider two other “resources” that God gives us in order to bring growth in our lives.

Suffering as a Means of Refinement

God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that when “trials of various kinds” (Jas. 1:2) come into our lives, our first impulse will be to run away from him instead of to him. For this reason, he comes to our rescue in Scripture by informing us that when suffering comes knocking at our door, we’re not to assume it’s a result of God being asleep on the throne. No, God loves us enough to tell us in advance what he’s up to: “you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jas. 1:3). Paul chimes in: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Rom. 5:3). Peter writes: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). These Scriptures fortify us with the theological interpretation of life we so desperately need. “God’s goal in suffering,” Scott Hafemann reminds us, “is to teach us that, in life and in death (as in all of eternity), God himself is all we ultimately need.”[1] Isn’t that Paul’s point in 2 Cor. 1:8-9?

The Role of the Church

“It takes a church to raise a Christian” Tom Ascol says.[2] I agree. If I had to guess, this is probably the most difficult aspect for contemporary American Christians to accept. Ever suspicious of institutions, many recoil at any suggestion that their walk with God should include other individuals holding them accountable.

In contrast to the rife individualism in our culture, the Bible presents a robust ecclesiology. God’s covenant promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 establishes the fact that God’s design is to have an international body of believers who joyfully submit to Jesus as Lord.[3] Recall Peter’s words concerning Christ’s intention to build “a spiritual house, a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5). The formation of this royal priesthood is part of the gospel; the church is the corporate dimension of being in Christ.[4] It is the divinely established community of faith—the people of God, the Body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit.[5]

In light of the aforementioned, it is incumbent upon people to treat the church more like their home and less like a hotel.[6] Believers need to see and sense that God desires to express his glory not just through individuals, but through a corporate body.[7] The concept of church membership seems foreign to American Christians because they see the church as an optional add-on to their religious life. They fail to appreciate that Christ instituted a church, and gave that church real authority (Matt. 16:18-19; 18:18-20). He did this, not to burden us, but to help “give shape and direction to our Christian lives.”[8] Simply put, we need the local church. We are mistaken if we think “we can with impunity go without the aid which the Lord foresaw would be necessary for us.”[9] Let us not think we are wiser than Christ. Our life together as the church is the way we witness in word and deed that we love one another (Jn. 13:35), that we are citizens of another country (Phil. 3:20), and that we gather as those summoned by his grace to offer our Triune God the worship that is his, “with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

The goal of the Christian life is Christlikeness. In order to achieve this goal one must discipline oneself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). A disciple must exercise self-control and set aside time for Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship. Thankfully, we can can rest in Christ, rejoice in the finished work of Christ, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, live out his rule of life to the glory of God.

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[1] Scott Hafemann, “A Call to Pastoral Suffering: The Need for Recovering Paul’s Model of Ministry in 2 Corinthians,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4:2 (2000): 22-36.

[2] Ascol, “Growing in Maturity,” 19.

[3] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, New Studies in Biblical Theology 23 (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 83-84

[4] Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel, 29.

[5] John Behr, “The Trinitarian Being of the Church,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 48:1 (2003): 67-88.  See esp. 70.

[6] Language borrowed from Burk Parsons, “Our Family Forever,” Tabletalk 40:9 (September 2016): 2.

[7] Mark Dever, “The Church: A Summary and Reflection,” in Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century, eds. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 88.

[8] Leeman, Church Membership, 30.

[9] Calvin, Institutes, 4. 12. 4.

 

Growth in the Christian Life, Part II

Yesterday I introduced the topic for this series of blogs. We noted that the new birth transforms a person’s desires and aspirations. This implants within every believer a yearning to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). We desire to “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1), to “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

How does this happen? The first suggestion I made yesterday was that growth comes as we avail ourselves to the means of grace. In today’s blog I’ll explain what our forefathers in the faith meant when they referred to the “means of grace.”

The Means of Grace Explained

The “means of grace” are the “resources” God has given to us to “grow us up into him,” to strengthen us spiritually, to further our sanctification. Theologians typically say God has given us the Word of God, prayer, and sacraments (or ordinances) as means of grace.

The Word of God

God is a talking God, and redemptive history, as outlined in Scripture “is essentially a narrative account of God’s gracious self-communicative activity,” or an expression of his “communicative self-giving,” to quote John Webster. He reveals himself to us as one who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). He comes to our rescue in Scripture. Truly, as Calvin said, “Without the word nothing is left for men but darkness.” While we learn many things in Scripture, since all of it ultimately points to Christ (Lk. 24:44), God’s redemptive initiative and accomplishment is the central focus.

So, what does this mean for us? The Bible is to be hidden in our hearts (Ps. 119:11); it is to be meditated upon (v. 15), and delighted in (v. 16). It is the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17); it is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12); and it “is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). If we are to live in a way that glorifies God then we must know his Word.

Prayer

In a world filled with distractions and heartache, as well as personal and relational challenges, we are in desperate need of unhurried time alone with God so that we can come “into the dining room of his strength, where we can feast to our heart’s delight.” We need to pray if we want to get to know God more.

I prefer to combine my Bible reading time with my prayer time. As you read the Bible, zero in on one truth to focus on. Summarize it, if you can, in a single sentence. Then praise God for the truth revealed. Spend the next few moments confessing to God how you fall short of the guiding principle you wrote down. Then petition God for strength to do better. Growing into your prayer life will be a lifelong journey. For help, consult Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life.

Sacraments/Ordinances

The ordinances refer to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Without attributing salvific efficacy to either ordinance, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are integral to our walk with Christ because they are signs of the new covenant. Baptism is a sign of a believer’s initiation into the new covenant, which points to what the sign signifies, namely, that a believer has received by faith alone the forgiveness of sins and union with Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:2-5; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11-12). Just as circumcision was a sign and seal of the covenant promises God made to Abraham (Rom. 4:11), so in the new covenant, God uses baptism to confirm our initiation into the covenant community and strengthen our consciousness of salvation.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ to be a sign of the new covenant—a sign pointing both backward and forward. As Paul explains, the Lord’s Supper “proclaims” the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26). Additionally, the Lord’s Supper announces the triumph of Christ over the powers of sin, death, and Satan, and Jesus promises that his people will drink of the fruit of the vine with him when the kingdom comes in its fullness (Lk. 22:18). As with baptism, when the Lord’s Supper is viewed canonically (that is, taking all of the Bible into account) one can see that it has certain affinities with the Passover meal in the OT. Just as the purpose of the Passover meal was commemorative, so likewise is the case with communion. As theologian Graham Cole notes, both Israel and the church were/are called to be a “community of memory.”

As believers who have trusted in Christ, when we reflect upon our baptism, we recall that we have what the sign signifies: union with Christ. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we recall that Christ’s body was broken for us and that his blood was shed for us. He accomplished our redemption. Because of his work on our behalf we have received all the benefits of salvation. We’re united with Christ and with all those who have also been united with Christ.

Praise God that he shares his light, life, and love with us.

Readers interested in pursuing further study can consult the resources listed below.

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[1] The word “resources” comes from John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the LORD: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Philipsburg: P&R, 2006), 261.

 [2] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016), 62.

[3] John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 42.

[4] Commentary on 2 Peter 1:19, in John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1855), 388.

[5] Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1992), 1.

[6] See, e.g., The 1689 London Baptist Confession 29.1-4.

[7] Brandon C. Jones, Waters of Promise: Finding Meaning in Believer Baptism (Eugene: Pickwick, 2012), 7, 135.

[8] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the LORD: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Philipsburg: P&R, 2006), 282-286; Russell Moore, “Baptist View: Christ’s Presence as Memorial,” in Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, eds. John H. Armstrong and Paul E. Engle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 30-44.

[9] Graham A. Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 131.

 

Growth in the Christian Life, Part 1

Dear blog reader(s), today I begin a three part series on growth in the Christian life. My goal in writing this is to inform us as to the means God uses to bring about our conformity to Christlikeness, as well as inspire us to entrust ourselves to him–to the one who laid down his life for us (Mark 10:45), rose again for our justification (Rom. 4:25), and will not relent until his purpose for our lives is complete (Phil. 1:6). ___________________________________________________________________

David can still remember waking up in the morning, stumbling out of bed to head into the kitchen, and seeing the light beaming out from his father’s study. Each morning his dad woke up early to read the Bible and pray. Witnessing the consistency of his father’s devotional life left an impression on David that remains to the present day.[1]

The Apostle Paul’s words to his young protégé Timothy bring into focus the aim of a Christian’s life: “Have nothing to do with irreverent silly myths. Rather train [or discipline, NASB] yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). The Bible depicts a Christian as someone who has been given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26-27; cf. Rom. 8:9-17), been born from above (Jn. 3:3), and whose desires and aspirations are now to please God (Matt. 13:44-46). Above all, their lives are characterized by a “settled intent” to follow Christ.[2] This “settled intent” is the result of being “born again.” J. I. Packer defines regeneration (that is, the new birth, or “being born again”) as “God renovating the heart, the core of a person’s being, by implanting a new principle of desire, purpose, and action.”[3]

The goal of our Christian life, then, is to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15); it is to “go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1). Paul told the Colossians that his goal as a minister was to “present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). Maturing in Christ “means to become increasingly like Christ in our thinking, moral character, and devotion to God.”[4] Perhaps we’ve read over those verses too quickly where Paul exhorts believers to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), or to “Be imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1)?[5]

This raises the question: How do I grow up in Christ? Without intending to be comprehensive, I would suggest that growth comes: 1) as we avail ourselves to the means of grace (defined in tomorrow’s blog), 2) as God uses suffering to refine us, and 3) as we unite ourselves to a local expression of Christ’s body, the church, where we receive discipline and instruction from other believers under the oversight of biblically qualified pastors/elders (Heb. 10:24-25; 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:2).

In tomorrow’s blog I’ll explain what the “means of grace” are so as to increase our understanding of how God intends to draw us into closer communion with him. Below are some resources to look into if you’d like to do some additional reading on your own.

Thanks for stopping by!

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[1] David Mathis, “How Should We Remember?” Tabletalk 40:12 (December 2016): 23.

[2] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 7.

[3] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1993), 157.

[4] Tom Ascol, “Growing in Maturity,” Tabletalk 40:11 (November 2016): 17.

[5] In no way am I suggesting that Christ came solely to be an example. He came to be our substitute (Mark 10:45). In calling us to imitate Christ, Paul is urging believers to “have the mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5). Here, I follow Jason B. Hood: “[In] neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament is imitation a matter of identical action or exact duplication. Imitation is a matter of mindset, such as a willingness to forgive and readiness to stoop in humility” (Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern [Downers Grove: IVP, 2013], 74).

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