Wednesday, December 1, 2010

God Dethroned?

“Who is regulating affairs on this earth today - God or the Devil? What impression is made upon the minds of those men of the world who, occasionally, attend a Gospel Service? What are the conceptions formed by those who hear even those preachers who are counted as “orthodox”? Is it not that a disappointed God is the one whom Christians believe in? From what is heard from the average evangelist today, is not any serious hearer obliged to conclude that he professes to represent a God who is filled with benevolent intentions, yet unable to carry them out; that He is earnestly desirous of blessing men, but that they will not let Him. Then must not the average hearer draw the inference that the devil has gained the upper hand and that God is to be pitied rather than worshipped.” -A.W.Pink 
It discourages me to know that from the pulpits of our churches people are preaching that God has little or no influence on the world today. Sure they do not say it in such a direct manner, but the subtle assertions that Satan is slowly gaining the upper hand inevitably makes the God who created the universe by the word of His mouth fade into the background. This increasingly popular, yet pseudo-Christian, worldview infects our theology and ultimately seeks to dethrone the King of kings. How could we begin to imagine that God is not in complete control of His creation? How can a person who abides in the truth of the Bible be convinced that God is not entirely sovereign over every aspect of His universe? 
Our removing God from our lives has its root in our view of our relationship to sin. Many subliminally think that we allowed God to save us just enough that we can avoid Hell and now we are on our own to fight off the temptations that so easily entangle us. One could not be more wrong! Some are under the impression that we can overcome sin and temptation of our own will and desires. What do the Scriptures say?
Isaiah 64:5-9
5 ...You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—
       In these ways we continue;
       And we need to be saved.
       6 But we are all like an unclean thing,
      And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
       We all fade as a leaf,
       And our iniquities, like the wind,
       Have taken us away.
       7 And there is no one who calls on Your name,
       Who stirs himself up to take hold of You;
       For You have hidden Your face from us,
       And have consumed us because of our iniquities.
       8 But now, O LORD,
       You are our Father;
       We are the clay, and You our potter;
       And all we are the work of Your hand.
       9 Do not be furious, O LORD,
       Nor remember iniquity forever;
       Indeed, please look…
We CANNOT overcome a single sin by our own effort nor do we desire to apart from the compulsion and conviction of the Holy Spirit. Our efforts toward doing good are as “filthy rags” in the eyes of a holy God. We are, by nature, inclined to do nothing but sin. Therefore we are reliant on God for ALL of our good. The only way we can please God and escape the bondage of sin is for God to transform us into a new creature by His true salvation that is found only in faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. 
Who would want to have to rely on themselves for any degree of righteousness? This method of thinking serves only to fuel human pride. We preach so heavily about “gaining that victory,” but whose “victory” is it? Is God glorified more by our own efforts toward overcoming sin or by our total dependence on Him for all our good. We take God out of the equation and when we do, a most disturbing world results, a world where we must rely on our own will power to maintain righteousness. We are taught that if we can muster up enough faith and pray really sincerely, then we can talk God into giving us what we want. We do not have nearly that sort of power in and of ourselves. 
Back to the original point. How much influence does God have in the world today? Complete control. He does not leave either salvation or sanctification up to us. He governs, guides, and regulates all things - large and small, animate and inanimate, good and bad - primarily for His Glory and secondarily for good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8), which still serves His glory. On what basis does He conduct things? According to His own pleasure and according to the council of His own will (Ephesians 1). Why wouldn’t the self-sufficient God who spoke the world into existence have the right to uphold and direct every outcome? Does He rule, or is He ruled? Do His eternal plans come to pass, or are they thwarted by His creation? There is no in-between. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Propitiation and Grace

There is a story that offers an imperfect, yet beautiful, illustration of the idea of propitiation. I do not know where the story originated but I know that it is a true story. I was told the story by a minister just this morning. It has incited in my mind questions that probe into the mystery of propitiation as well as substitutionary atonement. Here is my retelling of the story: 
     There was a seminary student who was going to school in the south side of Chicago. It is known to this day to be an area that is unsafe, full of destitute families, and prone to immorality. 
But this young man was in college and found himself in need of a job. After diligent searching, the best opportunity he found was the duty of driving a bus for the public transportation department. 
He drove along the same route everyday, and everyday, four young black men would get on his bus. These men were known to be active in a local gang and were a threat to public safety. Nevertheless, the thugs would get on his bus but refuse to pay the bus fee, exploiting the kind spirit of the student. 
One day, the student reported the incident to a local police officer. The next day, the officer boarded the bus and forced the thugs to pay the bus fee. As the bus left the bus stop, the thugs attacked the student, striking him in the head, and they beat him until he was unconscious. 
The student woke up much later in a vacant lot, alone and near death. After some time in the hospital, the student pressed charges against the four thugs. The court found the men guilty, and the judged announced their sentence. 
Before the judge completed the sentencing, the student asked if he could approach the bench. The student requested that he be able to serve the sentence for the men who assaulted him. The judge and audience were aghast at the request. Never had the plaintiff taken the punishment for the defendant, consequently, there was no law that forbade it. 
     The student explained that he wanted to demonstrate how Christ acted on his behalf, that Christ bore the furious wrath of God that we justly deserve. But in God’s perfect grace and mercy, He sent His Son in the likeness of human flesh to become the curse for us.
The request was granted and the student served time in jail. From this man’s actions, three of the four thugs came to know Christ, not to mention that his testimony has helped countless people better understand the message of Christ on the cross. 
In my own life, I can more clearly see how I am like the thugs in the story. I have assaulted Christ with my sin. I have insulted His holiness and His sovereignty. 
Because of my sin, I deserve nothing but wrath, condemnation, and estrangement from the presence of God. But God, in His overwhelming grace, has saved me, by delivering the punishment that I deserved to His innocent Son. Through Christ, I am positionally righteous before a holy and just God. 
We often demand justice. We shouldn’t. If justice is always served, then no one would be saved because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You will not be happy if you actually get what you deserve. Ask for GRACE. Grace is unmerited favor. It is getting something you do not deserve. Nothing you do can ever earn it. We know that a man is saved by grace, through faith, not by works, but it is the gift of God, so that no one may boast before God. No one can stand before God, justified by his own righteousness, for our righteous acts are as filthy rags because they are tainted by sin. 
Never assume grace. God doesn’t have to be gracious. This is reflected in the story. The student certainly did not have to serve the sentence of the criminals, but he did because of his love for God and His people. I’m sure the criminals did not expect for the student to act in such graciousness, but when the gift of grace is realized, they were glad to accept it. So also, we should humbly accept God’s extension of grace to us through faith in His Son and His finished work on the cross. 
Recommended reading: The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In Evil Long I Took Delight

“In Evil Long I Took Delight” by John Newton
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.
Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.
A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too. 
With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is filled;
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.
This poem is one of Newton’s greatest works, comparable even to “Amazing Grace,” and has meant a lot to me during my time in college. For the sake of analysis, I will divide it into two sections, the first look and the second look. These looks clearly show how the power of the Gospel works in the sinner’s life. 
The first look from Christ on His cross shows that the Gospel produces a shaming conviction of sin. Without the conviction brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit, repentance is impossible. We will never approach the mercy-seat of Christ until we realize the exceeding sinfulness of our own heart. 
This first look also illumines our heart to our role in the necessity of Jesus’s death. For some reason, people tend to ask, “What disciple are you most like?” My usual answer is Peter (a good leader) or John (Jesus’s best friend). But upon further meditation, I realize that I am more like Judas, the betrayer. By my day-to-day decisions, it is as if I betray my Savior, crucify Him afresh, proving my weak faith. I feel as guilty as Judas must have felt because of my lack of faith in the midst of hardship. 
The second look from Christ on His cross produces a true sense of freedom. Though the cross exposes our sin, it introduces God’s grace. It teaches that the result of Christ’s sacrifice is that we can become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and that we can receive an imputed righteousness that is only achieved though an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. This second look presents the reality of the atonement, as well as the essence of propitiation: that while we were still sinners, Christ died, our condemnation was crucified on the cross that day and is separated from us as far as the east is from the west. 
It’s interesting, the way the Gospel works in the sinner’s life: it tears him apart, breaks him down to nothing, and them begins rebuilding him the correct way, as a new creation. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dying to Self

C.S. Lewis stated that the more you surrender yourself to Christ, the more you will have a true self. It is crazy that we are called to give up everything so that, for the first time, we will have something. What we hold dear is fleeting, and when we give up that junk, God gives us something that counts. It’s strange that God takes away our mess to give us His good. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A similar idea is found in our salvation. When we come to the knowledge of our sin and our need for God’s grace, when realize the utter trash that we’ve made of our lives, that is where we will find that God treasures us. It is when we are humiliated and exhausted that we see how we can be fulfilled in Christ. It is when we understand how poor we are and how little we have to offer that God reveals how much he prizes us as His children. We should always be in a state of desperation for His fellowship. God loves when we are in the valley and have no choice but to rely entirely on Him. 
Just realizing our need of Him isn’t enough. There still poses a problem to our acceptance by Him. We still are sinful by nature. For there to be a change in lifestyle, he has to re-do everything that we’ve messed up. He empties us. He strips away everything that has belonged to our flesh and brings us to the point of total dependence. It is important to know that he doesn’t leave us empty, He fills us with something that counts. He doesn’t use what we have, he transforms us into the likeness of His Son. Sure we struggle with sin throughout our Christian walk, but that is because we have done nothing but sin since our first breaths. God, through the comforting rod and staff of the Holy Spirit, teaches us to walk in His ways. It is when we are walking in accordance with the Spirit that we are living as we were meant to live, in communion and fellowship with God. 
When I look at the Cross, I see, not only the ultimate act of love, but also the most unfair trade of all time. It is like God didn’t know how bad He was getting ripped off. Here’s the trade:  our sin exchanged, through Christ, for His righteousness, our condemnation exchanged, through grace, for His glorification, our Adamic nature exchanged, through salvation, for His perfect nature, our heart of stone exchanged, through the Breath of Life, for a heart of flesh. The fulcrum of this trade is the Cross of Christ. That is why Christ said, “It is finished.” He’s saying, “Deal.” This ultimate act of love is Christ giving up His life so that we would have the opportunity to live. His perfection for our imperfection. He received the wrath that we deserved. God treated Jesus, on the Cross, as if He lived my life, but he treats me as if I lived Jesus’s life. He traded his unity and communion with the Father, so that we may enter into the Marvelous Light. On the Cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is the only time that He doesn’t address God as “Father.” The Father/Son relationship was broken. But when He said, “It is finished,” the atonement was made. The relationship was reestablished. He then addresses God as Father, “Father, into Your hands, I commend My spirit.”
I hope you have seen that we didn’t deserve God’s sacrifice. We are sinful. We are so bad that God had to send His Son to die for us; but we are so loved that He was glad to do it. So before you walk out the door and try to show the world how great of a person you are, you need to understand that you’re’re forgiven. It is understood that we are all sinners and in desperate need of God’s grace. We are all on the same level and, unfortunately, that level is the bottom level.