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Articles on Reformation theology.

What if God Allows Suffering?

Last updated on October 30th, 2017 at 08:26 am

Facebook has become for me a theological ‘battle-ground.’ Unlike the pictures which are meticulously filtered, the ideas are never filtered. The biggest debate this week has been that of the sovereignty of God. It may seem pretty obvious to you that God is in control, “of course He is,” you might say, but it may not be that obvious.

Someone came out and asserted that God is not fully in control—in other words—He is partially sovereign over the cosmos He created. Their reason: God cannot allow suffering, pain, disease, car wrecks, wars, etc. He argued that all this bad stuff we see around is evidence that God is not sovereign. “God is really good, He can’t do that.”

But, what if God allows suffering?

In his book, The Reason for God, author, and pastor Timothy Keller attempts to respond to those who use evil and suffering as evidence against the existence of God. This does not tackle the question at hand head on but, none the less offers some helpful insight into what we are dealing with. Keller, first of all, traces a fallacy in this kind of reasoning. To him, this kind of reasoning is blind faith. “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean that there can’t be one,” he writes.

He then draws on the bible account of Joseph (Jacob’s son) who was sold into slavery by his brothers who could not stand his arrogance any longer. Through bondage and misery, his character was refined, and he went on to save thousands of lives, his family inclusive.

What caught my attention was the account Keller gives of a parishioner who lost most of his sight in a shooting:

“I knew a man in my first parish who had lost most of his eyesight after he was shot in the face during a drug deal gone bad. He told me that he had been an extremely selfish and cruel person, but he had always blamed his constant legal and relational problems on others. The loss of his sight had devastated him, but it had also profoundly humbled him. “As my physical eyes were closed, my spiritual eyes were opened, as it were. I finally saw how I’d been treating people. I changed, and now for the first time in my life I have friends, real friends. It was a terrible price to pay, and yet I must say it was worth it. I finally have what makes life worthwhile.”

It’s interesting that this man sees God’s hand in what happened to him. If this man could find something good in his suffering, so can many of us. I can also add that if we cannot see any good reason why God can allow suffering, it does not mean that God, from his divine perspective, does not see one.

Martin Luther: The Distinction between Law and Gospel

But you ask how it can be the fact that faith alone justifies, and affords without works so great a treasure of good things, when so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed to us in the Scriptures?

I answer, before all things bear in mind what I have said: that faith alone without works justifies, sets free, and saves, as I shall show more clearly below.

Meanwhile it is to be noted that the whole Scripture of God is divided into two parts: precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us what is good, but what they teach is not instantly done. For they show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength. For this reason they are called the Old Testament, and are so.

For example, “Thou shalt not covet,” is a precept by which we are all convicted of sin, since no man can help coveting, whatever efforts to the contrary he may make. In order therefore that he may fulfil the precept, and not covet, he is constrained to despair of himself and to seek elsewhere and through another the help which he cannot find in himself; as it is said, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help” (Hosea 13:9). Now what is done by this one precept is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us.

Now when a man has through the precepts been taught his own impotence, and become anxious by what means he may satisfy the law–for the law must be satisfied, so that no jot or tittle of it may pass away, otherwise he must be hopelessly condemned—then, being truly humbled and brought to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself no resource for justification and salvation.

Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, “If you wish to fulfil the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! Believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.” All these things you shall have, if you believe, and shall be without them if you do not believe. For what is impossible for you by all the works of the law, which are many and yet useless, you shall fulfil in an easy and summary way through faith, because God the Father has made everything to depend on faith, so that whosoever has it has all things, and he who has it not has nothing. “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 9:32).

Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils. Hence the promises of God belong to the New Testament; nay, are the New Testament.

This is an excerpt from Martin Luther’s “Concerning Christian Liberty.” It was edited for clarity.

One Rejected Prayer which Forever Changed the World

“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”—Luke 22:44 (ESV)

The culture we live in today is so full of itself.

One unanswered prayer can mean so many things. I have heard someone say to a group of people that their prayers remain unanswered because they did not purify themselves.

I am still trying to figure out what that statement means.

Others say that our unanswered prayers are because we have unrepented sin.

And also others say that we just don’t know the words to use when we pray.

What I have not heard, however, is someone explain away the reason why God (the Father) did not answer His Son’s request when he prayed in the garden. Is it not the bible which clearly says that “good fathers” don’t hand their children stones and snakes when they ask for a toast and some good fried fish?

Two lessons from this event hit you like a slap in the face.

Number one, fervor and frequency are never the stuff which get prayers answered. The angel at the Prayer Booth in heaven seems not to be very interested.

Luke, in his Gospel, when referring to Jesus’s routine activities, always uses the words “as was his custom.” Jesus’s custom constituted going to the temple and reading from the Law and the Prophets (4: 16) and praying up in the mountain (22: 39). But his prayers were also fervent for his idea of sweating was to bleed from the sweat pores.

That also did not move his Father in heaven.

Number two, God’s silence does not mean that he did not answer. I understand that all of us have an idea about how this world (including our lives) could be made brighter than it already is but the problem is that none of us down here owns a universe.

God has sole discretion over his universe and creation. He also has in his pocket the property deed to this universe. He owns it, solely.

Sometimes God does let us wallow in our sinful passions; that is granted. But that also happens because he has let us.

So, even as concerns our prayers, he is still sovereign. His “Yes” or “No” are both answers to prayer.

Think about it: What would be of this world had God the Father said “Yes” to the Son’s demands in the garden? What would be of salvation, mercy, grace, substitutionary atonement, simul justus et piccator, it is finished and all those beautiful statements we use to communicate the Good News?

Do you now see that one “No” from God is far greater than a lifetime of “Yes’s” from the entire mankind since creation?

Rest in the glorious reality that God’s “No” is also Good News because; it took a rejected prayer to save this world and all the train wrecks in it—even you.

AMEN.

The True Nature of Sin

When is sin a sin? Isn’t that the most asked question in church today? What about playing the lottery, is it sin? Where do we draw the line? You will agree with me that chalking the line to what qualifies as sin and what doesn’t is not a piece of cake. Especially so, in a culture that, instead of ‘finding the truth, chooses to create it.’

Thankfully for us, there is God’s word—the Bible, to help us answer this question. Since sin is disobedience towards God, then God Himself is better qualified to respond to the question “What is a sin?”

It is important to note that a statement like “sin is to dishonour/disobey God” will be sufficient until we go down to brass tacks—or the ‘cogs in the wheel,’ so to speak—of what disobedience really is. To help us answer this question will be Genesis chapter three, probably the most pivotal chapter in all of scripture. In this, we are going to see that sin challenges truth, moral standards, and identity.

1. Truth

 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. (Genesis 3:4)

The serpent’s approach in the garden was first to dispute what was true—namely—God’s Law. We are aware that God had commanded Adam and his wife to eat from every tree in the garden except one. So the Devil used that to sow seeds of doubt in our ancestors. Sin is always birthed when we choose to suppress the truth, in favour of a lie (Romans 1:24-25).

2. Moral Question

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, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)

When it comes to God’s moral standard, it’s always a question of what is right. Sin, therefore, attempts to answer it differently. It was right not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil; it was right not to worship the golden calf in the desert, and it was also right not to have relations with Bathsheba.

A young man who had been kidnapped and forced into homosexuality and pornography was narrating the ordeal to us a few years ago. He told us that all those who were forced into these actions were first convinced of how right­ these acts were. He gave an example that a green plastic bottle will be placed before you and you are asked which colour the bottle is. They then went on to convince you that this green bottle was actually red!

When you believe this, then something else becomes right for you.

3. Identity

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

Who am I? Paul, in Romans 1:25 makes it clear that I am either the Creator or a creature but not both and that orders my worship, you too. After sin has distorted the questions of “what is true?” and “what is right?” it goes on to make us the “authors and finishers” of our salvation. We then assume the place that can only belong to God.

This is evident in the serpent’s words to the Woman that if she ate from that tree, she would be like God herself. Sin, therefore, is man substituting himself for God.

Sin is not what we do

“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.”—Martin Luther

There is a growing, and a rather simplistic tendency to limit sin to our actions, that is, what we do. The problem with that approach is that if sin is an activity (what we do), then inactivity (not doing) will be the way we overcome it. Sadly, this is not the way the Bible defines sin.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tears to shreds this simplistic moralisation of God’s Law by saying that before God, anger and lust are the same as and carry the same punishment like murder and adultery, respectively. What Jesus does is to drill sin down to our minute motives and intentions. Therefore, to murder is to bear the motives which are demonstrated in anger, and to commit adultery is to have the intentions to do so which are expressed in lustful desires.

Sin is not what we do, it is what we are—our thoughts, desires, motives, and intentions expressed inwardly and most of the time unconsciously (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:20-23). Before it flows outwards in actions, sin has its nursery bed inwards—in the human heart. That is why, from Genesis 3, the ground work to picking and eating the fruit happens internally (Luke 6:45), in Adam and his wife’s hearts, that is where the questions of What is right? What is true? And Who am I? are asked and answered (albeit very wrongly) before they are acted out.

You can’t be Free and still be Afraid

Last updated on June 9th, 2017 at 01:42 pm

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.—1 John 4:18b (ESV)

Fear is a present reality in the life of a Christian. We fear of punishment, death, sickness, old age, bereavement, and above all, the fear of the unknown.

I have met people who have told me that when they were about to finish a particular level of education, say, primary school, something bad happened and the trend went on. Most of the time, what happened was similar to what had happened before: sickness, attacks of all kinds (including panic attacks). Fear was the fuel that kept this train going.

When we are afraid of something, we are captives to that which we are afraid of. So people who fear the unknown will look at the horoscope in hope that it will give them some good news about their day ahead; people who fear old age will do all they can to look and sound young; those who fear punishment will go out of the way to obey even when they don’t mean it. We are captives to what we fear.

John Stott was right when he says that “Fear and freedom are mutually incompatible…” because to fear something is to give it the weight (glory) that it should have never had in the first place. Fear is a prison.

John, in his first letter, talks about the perfect love of God which casts out all fear. He goes on to say that because God has reached down to love us, that this love of His has birthed in us a love for Him (4:19) and so the fear we had of God punishing us is cast out and replaced with love. Think about it: when you love someone, do you fear them? When they walk into the room, do you get panic attacks or you are filled with joy—a joy birthed out of the love you have for that person?

The good news is that Jesus’s cross and blood by which He defeated the powers of darkness also frees us from fear. You don’t have to fear tomorrow because your life is in the hands of Him who created tomorrow. You don’t have to look to a horoscope for good news because the real Good News is that you are perfectly loved by God with a love so fierce that it drives out all fear. “It is finished” also applies to all your fears.

So, what are those fears keep you awake at night? What are the demons that come at 3am in the morning? Be reminded that they have been crashed under the feet of Him who crashed the head of the serpent.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”

AMEN.

Why the Gospel Makes so Many People Angry

Last updated on May 14th, 2017 at 04:20 pm

“And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’”—Matthew 20:11-12 (ESV)

One mark, and probably the most visible one, of a false congregation (church/Ministry) is when it’s overflowing in numbers. When people are coming from the big and small towns, walking tens of hundreds of kilometres just to be at this one place, you ought to smell the fish.

Why do I say this? Because, by its very nature, the gospel is offensive. It makes people angry, it sends more people out of church than it brings them in (fact). This world has a way it operates. Mainly, it runs on a kind of fuel called earning­. I like to call it tit-for-tat. “To get something, you have to work for it”, “Good things come to those who are prepared for them.” You have heard this.

In other words, to get something, you have to work for it. When you work hard, then you have earned the right to deserve it. You can now enjoy your kill because you went out in the woods and did the hunting (by yourself). I feel I am speaking a familiar language here.

Now enter the Gospel. It’s free and doesn’t require anything on our part. What about our work and deserving? The gospel throws that in the garbage can (it always has one garbage can reserved for such purposes). It doesn’t draw lines of those who are deserving and those who are not. It recklessly gives the same amount to all.

But then, we have people who have toiled their entire lives to deserve God’s love for them. They have worked. And then there are those whom society thinks they don’t deserve an ounce God’s love, because they haven’t worked enough (or they haven’t worked at all). They have continued to remain in wrong groups, are doing a lot of bad stuff (my friend recently lost her phone, one of these guys snatched it from her), they can’t even show up in church, not even on Easter Sunday or Christmas. These are the riffraff you hear about, the ones we love to talk about in our “holiness groups” as a way of demonstrating our own exponential holiness.

The offense of the gospel is that it accepts these riffraff without requiring them to first change. To add salt to injury, the gospel does not ask for a guarantee that they will change after they are accepted. The gospel just opens its doors and lets it the riffraff, the beggars and fools in to eat and drink until they are full, without a coupon. Not just that, it asks them to stay as long as they want because this party is for always.

Now hear the good guys: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” The gospel pays the same amount to those who have been working 50 years and those who started yesterday at 5:30 in the evening. What is so offensive about grace is that it gives, for free, the same amount to those who have spent their entire lives working and those who have never even showed up at the workplace.

The “good guys” are mad because they think God should pay them, in hard currency, for their sweat, tears and blood. They have endured the scorching sun, put up with annoying line managers, walked in the rain every morning just to get to work, and along the way, they have accumulated a wealth of experience. But when it comes to payday, they receive 30 shillings, same as the whippersnapper who confirmed his appointment lunchtime yesterday. How offensive!

That is why a gospel-preaching, bible-believing church will be nearly empty, these “good guys” will find another congregation where their efforts are congratulated and their picture printed on top of the Sunday Worship bulletin. Thanks Morris.

The seemingly good guys think that they are good, which is just outright foolhardy. The bible says that no one is good, that all of us have fallen short. Question is: “Where are these offended guys getting their ideas from?” They better calm down and accept the truth that they are no way better than anyone else.

And when we accept that we are not good, that in fact, we are worse off that we can dare imagine, that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect glory (better still, that we fall short every day), the gospel of God’s free grace that requires nothing on our part but gives everything to us becomes Good News for every day. You are not better than the other guy; it’s just that God is Good enough to save you and the other guy. While all of us were still sinning, Christ died for all the ungodly.

That is your very long (but relieving) Lifeline, AMEN.

Palm Sunday: How shall we be Triumphant?

Today Christians all over the world, even those who have not been to church in a long time, will grace the pews for Palm Sunday. Palms will be all over the place and we will be waving hosanna with the joy of a little kid who has just unpacked his new toy.

When Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:53), we know that a lot of theological and Prophetic bombs are about to go off. He is walking to His death. “Jesus setting His face towards Jerusalem” could literally be translated as Jesus setting his face towards his grave and Palm Sunday is when He walks into jaws of death like a lamb walking towards the bloodied altar.

The road leading into Jerusalem is by now beaming with life, it is Palm Sunday. Jubilation and celebration. Shouts of praise and adoration. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” We should not forget that by this time the palms are shaking. By today’s standards, this was a red carpet reception only fitting for dignitaries and Hollywood blockbuster movie stars.

But there is something else: this King who is coming to town is mounted on a donkey! A donkey! And surely, the jubilant ones would have noticed this. They would have asked themselves why he was not on horseback. By the look of things, this is not your typical king.

The jubilations in town are a sign of the triumph about to come, but how? How shall we be triumph? Indeed if you read the story of this triumphant King, it doesn’t go well in the next few days. The lips that shout “Blessed is the King” on Palm Sunday will be the same lips that shout “crucify Him!” on Good Friday.

What is going on? How shall we be triumphant? When Jesus enters Jerusalem mounted on an ass (a donkey), He is making a statement that his backers gravely miss: the battle will be won by dying. Indeed, a donkey is the antithesis of a horse. While a horse is a sign of battle, a donkey is one of peace. The King comes in peace; He comes for peace, to die in it.

The dilemma of the people waving palm branches on Palm Sunday is that they also have an idea of how they shall be triumphant. And their idea is different from Jesus’s. Theirs is one of conquering, drawing swords and bleeding the enemy out.

Our church today cannot be any different. We may accept and celebrate the fact that it’s Palm Sunday and Jesus is in town but when it gets to climbing the hill to face our death, we rather stay downhill and monitor the proceedings from below. While Jesus insists that winning will only come by dying, we insist on living. Where he makes it clear that we can only win by bleeding ourselves out, we insist on winning by bleeding out the enemy.

Today’s church has outrightly refused to die. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33) The Gospel of Jesus is very clear: it’s only in dying that we will ever be able to live. But we insist on living. We insist on doing it our way, because we have convinced ourselves that if we work harder, we get to keep our lives.

But getting our hands dirty doesn’t guarantee life. If anything, it guarantees death. Those who insist on living will eventually die a death they will never come back from. God’s ferocious judgement awaits everyone who tries to earn salvation by doing more, trying harder, getting better or trying to hold tightly on their rotten life instead of just dropping dead.

God only accepts corpses because He alone knows what to do with them. To use the words of Robert Capon, Jesus “never meets a corpse that doesn’t sit up right on the spot.” When we die, we give up on the one thing that will always condemn us—our rotten life. “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:7) But in death, we are able to receive a new and better life, Jesus’s life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

In this case, Palm Sunday is a call to die to our rotten life. A call to give up on our life so that we will be resurrected into a new one—a life in Christ. It through dying that we get to live. The Good News is that God has offered His body, in exchange for our rotten ones and when we give up on this awful life, we soon realise that things are better on the other side. The garments are white and the sins have been forgiven and forgotten—this is the joy of the redeemed. You can only be hid in Him if you die with Him. So how shall we be triumphant? By dying.

Abiding in Myself

Last updated on July 9th, 2017 at 06:56 am

Let me confess at the outset that this is written for me. I wrote it down because I need it, it’s a sermon that I preached to myself and if it helps you, good!

I want to communicate something really sensitive, something that would be classified as being ‘border-line’ in nature because some things are really hard to communicate than others. I want to talk about what Jesus in John 15:1-11 calls abiding, and what I want to say, really, is something that we tend to overlook.

In that passage Jesus mentions the word ‘abide’ a staggering six times (vs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10) in just eleven verses. He is surely onto something; this can’t be a mere coincidence. But what is to abide? Using the simple analogy of the vine and the branches, to abide is when a branch just stays a branch—when it sits there and let the vine do the fruit bearing in it. The key word to use is being still. To abide is to be still (Psalm 46:10).

The branches (which are you and I) cannot bear any fruits unless they are in the Vine (Jesus). In other words, the branches have one goal here, receive the fruit which is 100% made by the Vine, carry it until a hungry souls comes to serve him/herself.

What Jesus is talking about here, I believe, is good works. That good works are the fruit produced in the branches (you and I) by the Vine (Jesus) and our role as branches is to carry them as we walk this world until we meet someone whose need will be met by these good works.

It is also clear from this passage that the fruit the branches carry is not for the Vine or the branches but for someone out there who is hungry and could use a bite. Because simple knowledge tells us that the trees never consume their own fruit, rather it ripens and if not eaten will fall off the branches and rot on the ground.

But that is not what I want to communicate. Humans are naturally good at making a mess of every good thing they come across, even a good thing like abiding. Verse five says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The point here is that fruit bearing is a consequence, or result of something else. Fruits are naturally produced.

The church in our day is obsessed with bearing fruit that transformation has been placed above everything else. When we ‘abide’, we do so to bear fruit, and that depends on what abiding means to us. When I go to a prayer meeting, I expect a revelation in form of a huge vision like the prophets of old or a future defying dream like in the times of Joseph and Daniel respectively. When that doesn’t happen, I will question my spirituality because something has to be lacking somewhere.

We have crafted a god out of abiding by placing fruit-bearing above and before the Vine. In a sense abiding has become the object of our faith, and the foundation and focus of it. The transformation that Jesus promises through abiding has become a self-salvation project of its own. Because at deeper level, we don’t go to church to meet God and be served by Him, we rather go there to be changed.

Ask yourself this question: “When you go to a worship service, do you seek to meet God or be transformed in a particular way?” Some smart people will say that even if they went for transformation, it’s only God that gives it, so I go to meet God. But you can see how that answer takes long to make sense and in the end doesn’t even answer the question at hand.

The branch will bear fruit but that is not primary, what is primary is that the branch is in the Vine. When that happens, fruit bearing is inevitable, so to speak. An old catechism asks the question, “What is man’s chief end?” and then gives the answer: “…to glorify God.” The best thing that will happen to the church is when it experiences a unique fellowship with the Father, mediated by the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Just sitting there and being reminded of what the Son has done.

The change we seek comes from God and so if you want any of it, seek God not the change itself—change does not cause itself, someone else does. The change (transformation) is a consequence of the beautiful thing that is sitting on the lap of a loving God, Abba, and letting him love us. Just like with marriage, where the exciting union between a man and a woman will produce something beautiful—children, so does the fellowship of God which produces good works.

Fruits of Faith as Gift.*

Last updated on November 16th, 2016 at 10:36 am

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…”—Philippians 3:20 (ESV).
 
With the believers in Christ, them who have their righteousness in Him, there should follow in this life on earth the fruits of upright living, in obedience to God. These fruits constitute the good works acceptable to God, which, being works of faith and wrought in Christ, will be rewarded in the life to come.
 
But Paul has in mind the individuals who, rejecting faith in Christ, regard their self-directed lives, their humanly-wrought works, which conform to the Law, as righteousness availing in the sight of God. His reference is to them who so trust, though wholly ignorant of Christ, for whose sake, without any merit on our part, righteousness is imputed to us by God.
 
The only condition is we must believe in Christ; for He became man, died for our sins and rose from the dead, for the very purpose of liberating us from our sins and granting us his resurrection and life.
 
Toward the heavenly life we should tend, in our life here walking in harmony with it; as Paul says in conclusion: “Our citizenship is in heaven [not earthly and not confined to this temporal life only]; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
If we have no knowledge, no consciousness, of this fact, it matters not how beautiful and praiseworthy our human, earthly righteousness may be, it is merely a hindrance and an injury.
 
For flesh and blood cannot help relying on its own righteousness and arrogantly boasting in this strain: “We are better, more honorable, more godly, than others. We Jews are the people of God and keep his Law.”
 
Even Christians are not wholly free from the pernicious (evil) influence of human holiness. They ever seek to bring their own works and merits before God. I know for myself what pains are inflicted by this godless wisdom, this figment of righteousness, and what effort must be made before the serpent’s head is bruised.
 
Now, this is the situation and there is no alternative: Either suffer hell or regard your human righteousness as loss and filth and endeavor not to be found relying on it at your last hour, in the presence of God and judgment, but rather stand in the righteousness of Christ.
 
In the garment of Christ’s righteousness and reared in him you may, in the resurrection from sin and death, meet Christ and exclaim: “Hail, beloved Lord and Saviour, you who has redeemed me from the wretched body of sin and death, and fashioned me like unto your holy, pure and glorious body!”
 
That is your Lifeline,
 
Amen.

 

 
 
*This devotion is an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther’s sermon on Philippians 3:17-21 titled “The Enemies of the Cross of Christ”. It has been formatted easier reading. Happy Reformation!
 
Image: Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

The Faithless Jesus

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 12:51 pm

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”—Luke 22:42, (ESV)

I don’t know about you, but I was lied to as I was growing up. I was told countless times by people who came before me, and I also later told others who came after me that there were three steps to having your prayer answered. And that everyone would do it, if they had ‘enough faith’. These three steps were:

1.       Name it, 

2.      Claim it, and then 

3.      Receive it.

When things didn’t go according to plan, it was because I lacked faith: I wasn’t bold enough, and assertive enough, and maybe I wasn’t loud enough. Faith by definition was what, in pop psychology, is called optimism. Faith was having a good attitude, especially when I prayed. In other words, faith was born, grew and worked inside my heart by me.

Then it dawned on me. This one caught me off-guard, otherwise I would have prepared for it. Jesus’ prayer at the Mount of Olives on the night he was betrayed. He is already distressed and at this moment his entire body is shaking in his cloak. If you ask me, this is the time he needs to name and claim something.

Instead he prays: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Before he makes his request he says: “Father, if you are willing…” and after the request he says: “not my will, but yours, be done.”

There you have it: a request sandwiched between the will of the Father. In my church background, this stuff would automatically qualify as faithlessness. What we have here is a faithless Jesus who can’t be bold enough and assertive enough make a request to God. I imagine some hippy dude telling Jesus, “Maintain the right attitude, man!”

You may not have had such a youth ministry experience like mine and you may not be as sinful as to render Jesus faithless but deep down you know this is not the prayer you would pray in you time of need.

Need reveals what is in our hearts. Need doesn’t just stretch our sinfulness to the limit, it also reveals our idols. It exposes our natural inclination towards ourselves. What the Reformers called “turning in” on ourselves.

At a time of need, it is rare to remember that something called “God’s will” even exists because at that moment we are preoccupied with ourselves. We want our need to go and we want it to go now.

Now tell me if that is really having faith. Tell me if “name it, claim it, and receive it” really is having faith.

The preacher in Hebrews 11:1 writes: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The things “hoped for” are the “things not seen.” It is what the Nicene Creed says that “I look forward to the resurrection / of the dead / and the life of the world to come.” That can never be inside your heart, or even mine.

Martin Luther defines faith as “living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.” That is what Jesus is doing here. And it’s not what we were doing when we “named and claimed” stuff.

Faith by definition necessarily draws us outside of ourselves to God and what He is doing in us. To love Him and trust His will for us. That even in our weak and wavering faith He able hold onto us until the promise fulfilled (Heb. 6:9).

Image : alectempongko.com

One Story: Types and Shadows from the Beginning

Last updated on September 24th, 2017 at 05:50 pm

If the Old Testament tells One Story, then it follows that all the people, events, and themes we read about in the OT are but “types and shadows” of the good things that would come (Romans 5:14; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10;1). Jesus himself says that these good things concern Him alone (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).

What we are going to do this week is talk about these “shadows and types” as a set up for Genesis 3 and onwards.

Eden, the Temple Garden—God’s Footstool

Genesis 3:8 introduces us to the notion of God walking through the garden. This time He does it in the evening. The feet of the Creator of all things making contact with the soils of this earth as they stamp under His feet the dry leaves that litter the garden is a sign of God’s sovereignty.

If heaven is God’s throne, then the earth is his footstool (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 99:5; 132:7; Isaiah 66:1; Lamentations 2:1). He is Lord here and above. It is here that God’s glory and presence are, where other than in the temple would have the presence and glory of God reside?

Adam is created by grace

After lavishing grace on the monsters and all the plants, God bestows an even bigger grace on Adam. Out of His own pleasure, He makes man after his own likeness (Gen. 1:26). Adam has nothing to do with his own creation, he has no say, no referendum was held, just God lavishing His love of man.

Here, transactionalism doesn’t enter into the case; Adam is just a recipient of what God gives. Just like we receive God’s gifts, the hard work that is required of Adam is to open his hands (or nostrils, which he can’t do by himself!) and receive the breath of life that God gives. This is reminiscent of the Lord’s Supper in the upper room and the words we hear on Sunday morning: “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt 26:26). That is how Adam receives his life, that is how we receive our lives, by grace as a free gift of God apart from what we do (Luke 12:32). He is “mercy” like it’s said in the prayer of humble access:

But you are the same Lord,

Whose nature is always to have mercy.

Adam, the High Priest

What would be of a temple without a High priest? Adam as a created being was given a charge to rule over the created things. That was his first act of worship as the one in charge of worship. In fact, Thomas Merton writes and says:

“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It “consents,” so to speak, to [God’s] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.”

His point is that the created things worship and glorify God by being and flourishing in their original God-intended state. When an apple tree starts bearing mangoes, then it has disobeyed. Its charge was to bear apples not mangoes. So was Adam, his act of worship was to be Adam—highest and ruler among the created but lower than the Creator.

When Adam is given the world to enjoy for the glory of God (Genesis 1:28-30), he takes charge seriously by naming the animals (2:20). This is his first act of worship in God’s temple garden. Vocation should never replace worship; it should always be an act of worship. In the things we do every day, we carry out our God-given functions, and that is how grace is dispensed in the work place—Coram Mundo. The point is: in whatever you do, God has put you there for His glory alone. Things begin to get messy when we start seeking our own glory in these little things that can give none of it to us.

Adam, God’s Prophet

Prophets, easily defined, are people ordained by God to speak for Him. He heard from God directly (Gen 1:28-30), and went to carry out ministry as the Lord had spoken (Gen 2:19-20). It is of utmost importance to point out that unlike the other prophets that come after him, Adam had a natural ability to fully and perfectly keep God’s Law, although it doesn’t last long.

Adam, the first Christ?

This is not the first time that I am stirring up controversy, and it won’t be the last. But on this point, the now dead Anglican theologian Robert Capon in his book Genesis the Movie had raised the question: “If Christ can be the last Adam, why can’t Adam be the first sacramental appearance (the first real presence) of Christ in the movie?”

Using Paul and the preacher of Hebrews who both bring forth the notion of “types and shadows,” then Adam is the first type or shadow of Christ just like Christ is the Last and better Adam. With this notion, all the OT characters are a type of Christ, and therefore Jesus is the better Version of them who does what they couldn’t do. This is how Jesus encourages us to read the OT, to see in these characters a shadow of Him and how he fully and finally does what they all couldn’t do.

Adam and Christ

Starting next week, we will be developing this idea of Christ being “the last Adam.” But even now, in these first two chapters of Genesis, we see a semblance between Adam and Christ (although this picture becomes full blown from Genesis 3 and going ahead).

Jesus Christ is the last and better Adam because the first Adam couldn’t get his act together. Christ is a better High priest in the order of Melchizedek whose one perfect sacrifice takes away the sins of the world for once (Hebrews 4:14).

Better still, unlike Adam who was created above all created things, Jesus was given a name above all and exalted to the highest of places and one day every knee shall bow before him and declare His Lordship (Phil 2:9-11).

Whereas Adam spoke God’s first word—that of naming the created things; Jesus Christ spoke God’s last word—it is finished. Christ is the Yes and amen of God’s promises (2 Cor. 1:20).

As I close, let me state that one of our greatest sins is to treat these “shadows and types” as if they are the real thing. In the real world, shadows are a representation of the real thing but cannot do what the real thing does. You can’t drive a shadow of your car, can you? But the shadows are in themselves Good News because they are a promise of a future gaze. When you look at a shadow, then the real thing is nearby. I will close with this quote from John Piper:

“Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.”

Keep digging,

AMEN.

One Story: Concerning Himself

Last updated on July 14th, 2017 at 12:48 pm

One of the most rewarding marks of a Christian is to be able to read the Old Testament for all its worth. This series titled “One Story” is prepared for just that. As we go through a number of Old Testament passages, we will see one thing: That the bible does not tell so many stories, but it tells one story in so many different ways.

The best place to start is Luke 24:13-35. The Emmaus Road experience. The reason we are starting here is two-fold: it is in this passage of scripture that we see how we wrongly read the Old Testament, and two, Jesus Himself in this same passage teaches how to read the Old Testament.

Two sad disciples are walking down to Emmaus when Jesus meets them, but they are kept from seeing Him. He asks them what they are talking about:

18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and pall the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

“28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going.  He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other,  “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?””—Luke 24:18-32 (ESV).

Before we delve into what Jesus teaches us about reading the OT, it is important that we understand how we read it today. This very passage does that very well.

The OT (and the entire Bible) in our churches today is read as if it is about us—helping us attain our best life now with a little help from God. Just like these two men who thought that Jesus was coming to establish a Kingdom on earth when they said: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v 21b). Their Kind of story was one in which they were the main cast, and Jesus played a supporting role who only came in to swing His magic wand when the need arose. To be more specific, there are majorly two dangerous ways in which we approach the Old Testament.

One, Moralism. For the most part, I grew up being told that the stories in the OT were meant to be examples for me to learn from. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible has a lot of examples we should learn from, but that is not the primary reason those stories are there. Abraham’s faith, Noah’s obedience, Moses’s stewardship, Joshua’s leadership, Gideon’s courage, etc. all these stories are not there make us good people, of moral astuteness. Sermons and books about how to “sly the heads off the giants in your life like David” are all too common, but they miss the story. In fact, moralism and legalism that plague the church to this day is because nearly everyone has been taught to read the Bible this way. In the end, it is our goodness, instead of Jesus’ cross and blood that we front in the hope that we will be justified.

Two, self-help. We live in a self-help culture, not just that, we are all natural born do-it-yourselfers since Genesis 3. This habit tends to creep into our bible reading when we to look for social and cultural cues in our bibles so that we will implement them for a smoother living. “Give me some biblical principles on how I can get out of debt,” then “Seven steps to Christian growth.” These are all too common. To stress this even more, our churches today are more inclined to the culture than they are to our sin problem and its atonement. Sermons are about “Raising obedient kids,” “Managing finances,” “Motivation,” “Tribalism and Racialism” etc. and ‘experts’ are brought to teach on these, using the bible as a manual. This is no different from yoga and other Zen habits.

This way of bible reading is popular because it puts us in the driving seat and hands all the control to us to make up a kind of god who will specifically meet our unique needs using our own methods on our terms—a custom made God! When we do this, we make the entire bible about us and our betterment (the evangelical word used here is transformation).



At the core, this kind of bible reading and study showcases the Christian, not the Christ.

When we bring this mind-set to Bible reading, we will miss Jesus just like the two guys on the Emmaus road. Our eyes will be closed so that we will only see ourselves in the story, instead of seeing the promised and presented Messiah—the one God intends for us to see.

Another thing that I need to point out is Jesus’ initial response “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (v. 25). Paul in Romans 10:17 writes that faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of Truth (Law and Gospel) alone, there was no way these guys would receive faith to believe in anything. What they had read from their bibles was not the “Word of Truth,” they were instead preoccupied with their selfish desires of political independence, self-improvement, and deafening grandeur. What we glean from here is that if we are ever going to receive the gift of faith from God, we must hear the gospel, not ourselves; His story, not our story; one story not many stories. Because it is by His gospel, not in our fantasies that we are granted God’s gift of faith.

Have you heard people say that majority of Jesus’ teaching is about money, so God wants us to be rich? I don’t think that is so. The reason Jesus uses money in His illustrations and parables, I believe, is because money is the only language all the perverted generations after Adam actually speak. If there is anything that will ‘turn on’ the human mind, its money. But money, just like any other created thing is never the thing. This is how C. S. Lewis puts it:

“These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”

Now the question is: How are we to read the bible? My short answer would be Luke 24:27! “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” [my emphasis] That’s it. Concerning Himself.

In the next couple of weeks we will be locating Jesus in the accounts of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Red Sea, Passover, the giving of the Law, Samson, Esther, and many other Old Testament characters and events. That is the only right way to read the OT according to Jesus.

All scripture concerns Jesus. Not us and how to attain our best life now, but Jesus. Matthew Henry in his commentary writes: “A golden thread of gospel grace runs through the whole web of the Old Testament.” As readers of the Bible, we should be able, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to see Jesus on every page of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

We cannot afford to see the Old and New Testaments separately. They are one by the same author (2 Tim 3:16). To Alec Motyer, an Old Testament theologian, the bible is “… a book with the answers at the back.” While the Old Testament promises the Saviour, the New Testament presents the Saviour.

The Old Testament is a canvas on which God begins to draw a sketch, even though unclear to us, it is the foundation of a more Beautiful picture that God completes in the New Testament—the picture of Himself.

That is the picture God wants us to see in His story, that one picture will make our “our hearts burn within us” with joy unspeakable. The joy of being found by the Saviour Himself. In the end, the OT like the NT announces our deliverance from the bondage of sin and its power.

Therefore Old Testament is neither a moral guide nor self-help manual, it is God’s announcement that He reached down into our sin, became the very thing that was killing us in order to save us from that very death we brought to ourselves (2 Cor. 5:21). It is a story in which Jesus; the main Character comes to save us. This is Jesus’ story.

I pray that Jesus will be revealed to us as we navigate the Old Testament terrain, may we see Jesus and Him only. AMEN