Monthly Archives: October 2012

In Appreciation of Reformation Day

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8

Consistent readers of this blog know that I am deeply committed Evangelical. Especially in the area of soteriology (i.e., theology of salvation), I am convinced that the Evangelical understanding of how we are saved is the biblical message. Without question during the Middle Ages, the church in the Western world lost the New Testament understanding of salvation of faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. Anglican theologian, Alister McGrath elaborates:

The late Middle Ages saw the church going through a period of real doctrinal confusion. People were not sure what they believed. They weren’t sure why they believed it, either. The result is that the church of the period really lacked any sense of certainty about what they believed and why they believed it.

There arose a whole generation of Christians who really didn’t understand what the Gospel was all about. That was enormously important for a whole range of things. One of the great themes of the doctrine of justification is this: It answers the question, “What must I do to be saved?” That is a real question for a lot of people. It is an important question. It is a question that needs to be answered. Yet in the late Middle Ages, people weren’t certain how to answer that question at all. What must you do to be saved?

Alister McGrath, “The State of the Church Before the Reformation,” Modern Reformation (March/April, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1994): 4-11.

In certain denominational and theological circles, it is popular to trash Martin Luther. Luther is blamed for everything from denominational division to Nazi persecution of the Jews to the lack of holiness in the American church. However during the Middle Ages, the Holy Spirit used Martin Luther to recover the gospel message. Most of us would not know Christ today if it were not for Luther’s commitment to biblical truth: faith in Christ’s finished work on the Cross is the means by which which we are made right with God (i.e., justification).

Since we are justified by faith alone, it is clear that the inner person cannot be justified, freed or saved by any external work or act, and such works, whatever they may be, have nothing to do with the inner person. Therefore, only ungodliness and unbelief of the heart make a person a condemned servant of sin — this cannot be caused by any external work or act of sin.

It follows that it ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to put aside confidence in works and grow stronger in the belief that we are saved by faith alone. Through this faith the Christian should increase in knowledge not of works but of Christ Jesus and the benefits of his death and resurrection.

Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian (Minneapolis, MN: 2008), 55.

I appreciate Reformation Day because without it, I would not be saved.

Extravagant Love

Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

John 12:3

Christian devotion is the spontaneous act of extravagant love which ignores all social conventions and practical logic in order to pour out on Jesus all adoration, praise, and honor.

In our attitude . . .

Extravagant love is unreserved: no cultural norms or personal inhibitions will stop us from adoring our Lord.

Extravagant love is unashamed: no fear of embarrassment will prevent us from displaying our love for Christ.

Extravagant love is unexpected: we love Christ passionately because he loved us graciously.

Extravagant love is unrehearsed: our gratitude to him flows spontaneously out of thankful hearts.

Extravagant love is unreal: our love is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.


In our actions . . . extravagant love is a passionate burning heart on fire for Christ.

Passionate love is expressive: our love for Christ involves our whole being.

Passionate love is excessive: we are over-the-top in our adoration of Christ.

Passionate love is external: no hiding our devotion to the one who died and rose again.

Passionate love is extensive: our love for Christ involves every area of our lives.

Passionate love is extraordinary: the world cannot understand our convictions, loyalty, and love for Christ.

Maintaining a passionate, extravagant love for Christ fulfills the command to love the Lord, your God, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt. 22:37).

“And the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (John 12:3).By the breaking of that flask and the anointing of the Lord Jesus, the house was pervaded with the sweetest fragrance. Everyone could smell it and none could be unaware of it. What is the significance of this?

Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered — someone who has gone through experiences with the Lord that have brought limitation, and who, instead of trying to break free in order to be ‘used’, has been willing to be imprisoned by Him and has thus learned to find satisfaction in the Lord and nowhere else — then immediately you become aware of something.

Immediately your spiritual senses detect a sweet savour of Christ. Something has been crushed, something has been broken in that life, and so you smell the odor. The odor that filled the house that day in Bethany still fills the Church today; Mary’s fragrance never passes. It needed but one stroke to break the flask for the Lord, but that breaking and the fragrance of that anointing abides.

We are speaking here of what we are; not of what we do or what we preach. Perhaps you may have been asking the Lord for a long time that He will be pleased to use you in such a way as to impart impressions of Himself to others. That prayer is not exactly for the gift of preaching or teaching.

It is rather that you might be able, in your touch with others, to impart God, the presence of God, the sense of God. Dear friends, you cannot produce such impressions of God upon others without the breaking of everything, even your most precious possessions, at the feet of the Lord Jesus.

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Fort Washington , PA: CLC, 1985), 281.


Looking Unto Jesus

Faith is the firm solid confidence that God will be faithful to his present and future promises. We hold this absolute conviction in our hearts even though we can’t physically see him or his promises. The great men and women of the past lived like this and God blessed them.

Paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1-2.

The phrase,”Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2) is one of the most succinct definitions of faith in the New Testament. “Looking unto Jesus,” is an expression of dependence, obedience, allegiance, and devotion. Faith as “looking unto Jesus” is a looking away from everyone else and everything else that would distract us from supreme satisfaction in Christ. It is declaring to the world that only Christ satisfies and fulfills. To look to Jesus and Jesus alone is our soul’s fulfillment, prize, and delight.

Looking unto Jesus is resting on God’s character, believing Christ’s Cross, and obeying the Spirit’s leadership with a certainty that surpasses physical sight and transcends human understanding. Looking unto Jesus believes God’s promises, relying on his faithfulness, and being confident in his unfailing love. When we look to Jesus we ignore bad circumstances, negative feelings, and discouraging thoughts to stand on God’s word and walk in his ways (Isa. 55:8-9). In short, this faith believes what God says is true—our sins are washed away in Christ’s blood, our lives are in his hands, and his grace will never fail us.

Looking to Jesus, with the look of faith, because our salvation is in Him alone; with the look of love, because He alone can satisfy our heart; with the look of strong desire, longing to know Him better; with the look of soul devotion, waiting only to know His will; with the look of gladness, because we know He loves us; with the look of wonder and admiration, because He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, our Lord and our God.

Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All: An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, 1894), 484.


Loving What Jesus Loves (Conclusion)

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Cor. 12: 27

Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Loving what Jesus loves involves loving his church: the Body of Christ. The body of Christ is a fellowship of believers united to Christ, and in Christ, to one another. This fellowship is supernatural being an organism in living relationship with its head, Jesus Christ. The church is subjected to his Lordship, animated by his Holy Spirit, and empowered by his presence.

Upon being born from above, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12: 13) and thereby, receiving his life, becoming the instrument by which he works. The Body of Christ is filled with all the presence, power, and riches of God in Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ and we, the Body of Christ, have been given his fullness (Col. 1:19, 2:9). This fullness of divine life is gifted to the church by Christ: he pervades the church with his presence, empowers her with his life, releases his gifts for service, and energizes her for mission into the world.

The Apostle Paul affirms this, “Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it” (1 Cor. 12: 27). The Body of Christ is a society of men and women in union with Christ, led by the Father, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. The Body uses the gifts Christ has granted them for the glory of God and the good of others.

Jesus Christ did not rise alone. He rose as the head of a whole body of people elected to have faith in him, to benefit from him, and to extend his mission in the world.

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Engaging God’s World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 81.

Loving What Jesus Loves (Part Three)

There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Eph. 4:4-6 NIV

In Part One and Part Two of this series, we established that if we are in love with Jesus, we will love what Jesus loves, and what Jesus loves is his church (Eph. 5:25). However, some Christians claim to love Jesus without want or need for the church. While still others claim to love the church without maintaining an intimate love relationship with the Lord of the Church. It is a false dichotomy, “The Church is in Christ as Eve was in Adam,” wrote Anglican Divine, Richard Hooker. To have one is to have the other: Christ and the church cannot be separated (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Some individuals claim an personal relationship with God, but are not in covenant commitment with other believers. They roam from local church to local church never establishing themselves in relationships of accountability. They never allow themselves to be challenged, never make a commitment, and never grow spiritually. They claim to be in love with Jesus, but they avoid the church.

Others attend church regularly, they can tell you the history of their building and the development of their denomination. These church goers can recite the doctrinal statements of their communion verbatim. However, they lack a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. These church historians can tell you about all their preachers and church leaders, yet they are not able to hear the Lord for themselves. They are devoted to their particular church or denomination, but they are not a committed follower of the Lord of the church.

The New Testament demands that loving Christ means loving what he loves and what he loves is his church (Col. 1:18). As Cyprian of Carthage declared, “He cannot have God for his father who refuses to have the Church for his mother.” No matter how flawed her members, or how inconsistent their behavior, or how ridiculous its proclamations, Christ still loves his church.

Christ lives in his church, he operates through her, and changes lives by her. Scripturally, we are called to a living relationship with Jesus and to living relationships with our fellow members in the Body of Christ. As the Greek church father, Origen, stated:

The Church is Christ manifest in the flesh, as Jesus of Nazareth was God manifest in the flesh.

Origen cited in Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992), 293.

Loving What Jesus Loves (Part Two)

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Eph. 1:22-23

Yesterday, we discussed loving what Jesus loves. We saw what Jesus loves is his church. Often, we think that church is an option; an add-on for our benefit and convenience. Pick and choose, come or go, it is one of many things that we can do or not do. Yet, the church is the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is its head. We can know the head, but we will not be able to stand, walk, or run without the body. According to Scripture, church involvement and participation is not an option, but a necessity for communing with the eternal Christ (1 Cor. 12:27).

Many hurt believers and confused outsiders decide that they do not need the church. They remark, “I will follow Christ, but I don’t like the church.” The New Testament does not give us that option. Without the church, we do not grow in Christ, mature in relationships, or deepen in worship. Without church, we do not minister effectively, we are not challenged, and we do not learn covenant commitment.

We continue with our story of a young German theologian who learned what it meant to love Christ and his church:

Four years later, on July 29, 1928, this same young man, now a pastor in Barcelona, was preaching to a congregation of German expatriates. He related from his time in Rome, this life-changing observation:

“There is a word that, when a [Roman] Catholic hears it, kindles all his feeling of love and bliss; that stirs all the depths of his religious sensibility, from dread and awe of the Last Judgment to the sweetness of God’s presence; and that certainly awakens in him the feeling of home; the feeling that only a child has in relation to its mother, made up of gratitude, reverence, and devoted love . . . .

And there is a word that to Protestants has the sound of something infinitely commonplace, more or less indifferent and superfluous, that does not make their heart beat faster; something with which a sense of boredom is so often associated . . . . And yet our fate is sealed, if we are unable again to attach a new, or perhaps a very old, meaning to it. Woe to us if that word does not become important to us soon again. . . . Yes, the word to which I am referring is Church.”

So spoke Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a small German congregation in Barcelona. So spoke a German theologian who was no longer a German Protestant, but a Reformed (or Evangelical) Catholic. This future theologian would no longer be myopically concerned with the affairs of the German state church, but open to the Holy Spirit’s directing and leading throughout the worldwide Body of Christ. Bonhoeffer would not only fall in love with Christ, but also, he would fall in love with Christ’s church. Now, Bonhoeffer was a son of the Reformation ministering in the Catholic tradition in a fascist world gone mad.

Sources: Dietrich Bonhoeffer cited in Timothy George, “What I’d Like to Tell the Pope About the Church,” Christianity Today, Volume 42, Issue 7, (June 15, 1998) and Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2010), 49.

Loving What Jesus Loves (Part One)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Eph. 5:25-28 ESV

If we are in love with Jesus, then we will love what Jesus loves. What does Jesus love? He loves his church. No matter how ugly she acts, how sinful she behaves, or how hurtful her attitude, Jesus still loves his church. The Bible gives us no other option, if we desire to grow in Christ, then we must attend, serve, and worship in his church.

We may want to leave out of disappointment, distance ourselves out of embarrassment, and retaliate out of anger. However, we are called to stay and walk in the Spirit no matter our frustration or disillusionment. In the 1920’s, a young German theologian discovered the church and learned to love Christ and his church.

During April of 1924, a young aspiring theologian visited Rome for the first time. With his brother, he visited the ancient ruins and toured the great cathedrals and parish churches. Unplanned, his visit fell during Holy Week and guided by a young knowledgeable Roman Catholic priest from Bologna, they attended the great Holy Week services of the Roman church. The depth, gravity, and beauty of the ancient rites affected his spirit drawing him into the beauty of ancient catholicity.

As a state church German Protestant, he had experienced very little of the Roman Catholic Church: its people, its ancient liturgy, and its spirituality. This young man was greatly impressed by the sincere devotion and heart-felt conviction of the laity as they stood in line to partake of the sacrament of reconciliation. After receiving the sin-cleansing absolution of the young priests, guilt and shame was noticeably removed from their faces as they walked away. This young theologian continued with his Protestant objections to Roman Catholic doctrine, but was forever affected by the Roman Catholic laity’s deep and abiding love for the Church.

Edwin Robertson, The Shame and Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York. MacMillan, 1988), 41.

The Purest Joy

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Gal. 5:22 ESV

Joy is that deep, supernatural fulfillment that comes in knowing that we are experiencing and expressing the one who is true satisfaction, Jesus Christ. Joy begins with acknowledging that we are unconditionally loved, graciously forgiven, and eternally kept in Christ. Joy is released in our lives when we cultivate Christ’s conscious, constant presence.

Joy is not produced by emotional highs: supernatural fulfillment is imparted by obedience to God’s commands. Joy is not dependent on pleasant circumstances, but it is the fruit of finding and meeting Christ in the midst of all our life’s circumstances both pleasant and painful. Joy is renewed by worshiping the risen Jesus and by sharing him with others.

The purest joy in the world is joy in Christ Jesus. When the Spirit is poured down, his people get very near and clear views of the Lord Jesus. They eat his flesh and drink his blood. They come to a personal cleaving to the Lord. They taste that the Lord is gracious. His blood and righteousness appear infinitely perfect, full and free to their soul. They sit under his shadow with great delight. . . . They lean on the Beloved. They find infinite strength in him for the use of their soul — grace for grace — all they can need in any hour of trial and suffering to the very end.”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, preaching on Psalm 85:6, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”

HT: Ray Ortlund

A Foot Upon the Thorn

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Rom. 8:16-17

We live in the midst of the fallout of the fall: sin has affected every area of creation and all aspects of our lives. Disappointment, pain, and trouble are significant ingredients of our daily lives. Ill-timed, unexpected tragedies can shape our Christian lives for the better or make our hearts hard through bitterness. The choice is ours: better or bitter.

If we want to be better, we do not play the victim, but recognize that our Lord is sovereignly operating through our circumstances to conform us into image and likeness of his Son. Myrrh and frankincense, suffering and glory, cross and resurrection go together. There is no growth in the Christian life without a willingness to walk in the way of the Cross.

Every one that gets to the throne must put his foot upon the thorn. The way to the crown is by the cross. We must taste the gall if we are to taste the glory. When justified by faith, God led them into tribulations also. When God brought Israel through the Red Sea, He led them into the wilderness; so, when God saves a soul, He tries it. He never gives faith without trying it. The way to Zion is through the Valley of Baca.

You must go through the wilderness of Jordan if you are to come to the Land of Promise. Some believers are much surprised when they are called to suffer. They thought they would do some great thing for God; but all that God permits them to do is to suffer. Go round everyone in glory; everyone has a different story, yet every one has a tale of suffering. One was persecuted in his family, by his friends and companions; another was visited by sore pains and humbling disease, neglected by the world; another was bereaved of children; another had all these afflictions.

Andrew A. Bonar and Robert M. McCheyne, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray McCheyne, (Christian Classics Foundation, 1996., electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1947), 216.

The Bible: Easy to Understand?

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

Psalm 119: 105


The Bible is the Word of God by its immeasurable majesty, moral purity, essential unity, and time-tested faithfulness. The Bible is unique in its power to convince and convert our hearts, comfort and build-up our spirits, and divide and measure our motives. The Bible is encouragement in trial, insight into the tribulations of life, and guidance in the midst of confusion. The Bible is the only book whose author can personally and directly apply its truths to our daily lives.

The Bible is to be believed, obeyed, trusted, digested, and honored. When we read the Bible, the Spirit leads us to repent that we may be made holy; hear God’s voice that we may be drawn nearer to Christ, renounce the world that we may be transformed into the image of Christ, revived as the people of God that we may be a light unto the world, and prepared for the Second Coming of Christ that we may be ready to see Christ face-to-face.

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship.

Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Søren Kierkegaard

HT: Joe Carter