Images: Reflections

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I believe that God is good. I believe He has claimed a people for His own. I believe it is His desire that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. I believe that God wants to be close to us; in fact, He seems consumed with it. God came down and fashioned the world, He came down and walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He came down and had dinner with Abraham. He spoke to Moses as one does with a friend, He wanted to be so close to Israel that He walked in front of them with one leg of fire and one leg of cloud, and St. Paul tells us that He was the rock that followed them through the wilderness. He couldn’t get close enough to them! So He made His earthly abode smack dab in the center of His people’s encampment. He invited 70 of their elders to dinner with a mountain-top view, and He said let’s eat together often – here’s a “Fellowship Offering” it will be good for your soul!

He assured Joshua of victory, while Joshua grabbed his sandal. He tolerated a doubting Gideon’s multiple fleeces. Because His people were suffering and His heart ached for them, He made a donkey’s jawbone a weapon of mass destruction. I wish I could really convey to you the love this God has for you!

He came down upon His people in Solomon’s Temple, and His presence was so heavy no one was left standing. He washed out Isaiah’s mouth, and gave Him a sneak peak of His throne room. Oh God, open our eyes that we may see!

He couldn’t stand it any longer when His people didn’t listen to His prophets, so He sent His only Son, to walk and talk among us for 33 years. That wasn’t enough so He caught Paul up into the third heaven; and some folks found Paul hard to understand so He met with John on the island of Patmos and promised to come back. Indeed, to send His Son back to make the world right, and if that wasn’t enough to then bring down His entire city upon Earth, because He just can’t get enough of us . . . but really because we can’t get enough of Him!

In fact, it wouldn’t be right, if I didn’t tell you that God just can’t stop talking about being with you. It rings from one end of His love letter to us to the other.

You see, God is quite obsessed, not with taking us up and out of here, but with coming down and being near.

IMAGES

Images evoke and invite; they are windows into which we can gaze. Images provoke and incite; they are doors through which we can walk. They expand our understanding of the multidimensional mysteries of the work of God and His Spirit.

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” said John the Baptizer, bringing to the mind’s eye for his hearers images they knew intimately and saw regularly, to teach them about a person they did not yet know.

Often times we try to describe God and God’s work in theories, the theory of substitutionary atonement, the theory of penal satisfaction; does God give us theories or images in Scripture? Theories circumscribe the limits of what is true. Can we define the limits of what God has done? No, images are better and images are what God uses. Ransom, Redemption, Deliverance from Egypt, Adoption as sons, lambs to the slaughter, face to face like one speaks to a friend, these are all images that cause us to see and understand, but not to define.

Indeed, we ourselves were created in God’s image. Have you ever wondered why?

God is jealous. Have you ever wondered why?

(Exodus 34:10)

And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Note what comes next:

“Observe (shamar) what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

Take care (shamar), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.

You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is El Qanna (Jealous), is a jealous God,

lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.

What is our purpose? Why were we created in His image?

Matthew 5:14-19

(14) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

(15) Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

How will your light shine?

(16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

How will we know how to do “good works”? Well, “good works” was a 1st Century synonym for God’s commandments. Surprised? Doubtful? Where does Jesus go next?

(17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I said to you a couple weeks ago that the Law of God describes His character. We were made in His image so that we could reflect His character. What is the Good News? Paul says it is the Gospel of God.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  (Revelation 3:15-16)

Why? Because lukewarmness is confusing. You’re not hot; you don’t look like me, but you claim my name. You’re not cold; you’re not pagans, but you don’t look like me. Pthoah! I spit you out; you confuse my children!

Matt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“I desire that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Jer. 7:23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I instruct you, that it may be well with you.’

… what was the lesson of the first six books of the Bible? Disobedience Hurts. What is the warning to us, not only will disobedience prevent you from fulfilling your purpose here on Earth, but it will cause you harm; you will suffer for it.

Let me paraphrase Deut 30 for you:

Listen, my child, I made you for a purpose, and I’ve given you the instructions on how to live so as to accomplish it. Furthermore, I’ve empowered you by my Spirit so that you can do what I’ve described, “It’s not too difficult for you, it is within your grasp. It is not up in heaven, that you should say, “who could ascend there, and make this earthly so we could actually do these things?” It is not across the sea, that you might ask, “who could journey that far and bring these to us that we might do them?” No, my message is very close it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between prosperity and disaster, between life and death. I have enjoined you today to love the LORD your God and to keep his principles, his statutes, and instructions by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and become a great people, and the LORD your God will bless you and your living place.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in your homeland! (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Where was the Tabernacle of God? At the center of their city. It was that which all their life revolved around.

Who or what are you reflecting? We reflect what we look at.

Let me wrap up by telling you this story: this past winter I drove back from meetings in Indy through blizzard-like conditions; I was surrounded and upheld by grace the entire trip, indeed, I suspect there may even have been angels keeping my wheels on the road from time to time. However, that grace-infused trip was not without considerable effort on my part, and I was guided and protected by the laws of safe driving passed along to me by my father.

Grace is opposed to earning; not to effort! Too many of us think that law and grace are opposed; they’re not, their inseparable companions!

Listen to J.I. Packer:

the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.

Finally, I leave you with the words of John Wesley:

I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, —

Closer and closer let us cleave
To his beloved Embrace;
Expect his fullness to receive,
And grace to answer grace.

The Great Commandments (Mt. 22:37-40; Mk. 12:29-31) are the summary of that great description of God’s character which Jesus perfectly embodied—the Law of God—condensed even further by St. Paul, “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not… and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9). Still at the feet of St. Paul we read in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Which prompts us to ask, “To what purpose the “therefore”? Leading us back to chapter 4: that we no longer walk as the Gentiles do, but put off our old selves, and, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24).

Why is God so jealous for us to accurately reflect His character? Because He has no other Body, but us; it is we whom He tasked to reflect His nature to the world. The mission of God—to which we are adjoined by virtue of being baptized with Christ in his death, and raised with Him in His resurrection—is that phrase which echoes from Genesis to Revelation, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people, and I will dwell among you.” (Ex 6:7; 29:45-46; Jer. 7:23; 30:22; Ezek. 36:28; Rev. 21:3).

In whose Image were you created?

Whose image are you reflecting?

Who or what do you spend most of your time looking at?

Repent is a Compound Word

Though Jesus delivers the Gospel in several ways and on multiple occasions, for some reason we often tend to think of His message as the one time it is recorded in Mark 1:15,

Repent and believe in the gospel.

Jesus more often says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” or simply, “Repent, lest you perish.” But let’s go with “Repent and believe” for a moment, shall we?

My wife mentioned something this afternoon that struck me. How often have we heard sermons urging us to repent, but has it ever occurred to you that they seldom, if ever, urge us to something…only from something—from sin.

So we jaunt through life under the impression that the Gospel is a 2-step process:

  1. Repent, and
  2. Believe.

It’s a remarkably convenient way to think about it. Aye; for if the culmination of our action, repentance, is to simply believe, than we’ve done the hard part; we’ve turned from sin and now we simply change our minds, and life moves on, jolly well a lot like it was before we changed our minds.

But “repent” is a compound word.

The first part of repent is to turn from something, but the second part is to turn toward its replacement. You are running away from the ways of the kingdom of darkness and turning around and now running toward the ways of the kingdom of light.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.  (Romans 6:19)

From: “My son, do not forget my teaching,”

To: “but let your heart keep my commandments”

To: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.”

To: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart

From: “and do not lean on your own understanding.”

To: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

From: “Be not wise in your own eyes;

To: “fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (note that it doesn’t stop there)

To: Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;”

Conclusion: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. … do not lose sight of these– keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble.” (Proverbs 3:1-23 ESV)

Why do we shrink away from urging one another all the more toward love and good deeds? (Hebrews 10:24)? After all, the good works, the commandments of the Lord that the Psalmist so passionately loved, that we are urged to meditate upon day and night, are the very things that we were created for!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Let’s stop cutting our sermons in half! Let’s recall that repentance is a two-part process, and let’s start calling people from sin and to godliness!

Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort! Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid! Make yourself a slave to righteousness; it’s your destiny.

Perhaps we ought to stop feeling satisfied that we’re struggling to walk away from sin, and start feeling desperate about the reality that we’re not consumed with occupying our day-to-day lives with walking toward godliness. Incidentally, it is much easier to find success when you’re dedicated to something than it is when you’re struggle against something.

What are you dedicated to? What are you moving towards?

Mature Christianity

J.I. Packer comments on mature evangelicals, but in many ways his comments apply more broadly to Christians in general.

Immature evangelicals have sometimes settled for a euphoric, man-centred pietism, concerned only with possessing and spreading the peace and joy of ‘knowing Christ as my personal Saviour’ (sadly, these precious words are nowadays a cant phrase), and never appreciating God’s revealed concern for truth and righteousness in church and community. Maturer evangelicals, however, have always recognized that though personal conversion is the starting-point, Christians must learn a biblical God-centredness and seek after ‘holiness to the Lord’ in all departments of the church’s worship, witness and work and in every activity and relationship of human life.*

Would that this understanding would permeate American churches!

*J.I. Packer, “A Kind of Noah’s Ark? The Anglican Commitment to Comprehensiveness” (1981) in J.I. Packer & N.T. Wright, Anglican Evangelical Identity: Yesterday and Today (London: The Latimer Trust, 2008) p. 126.

Why Does God Save Us?

I’m not sure if I’ve blogged about it, but I often speak about the reality that God wants His people to bear His image to the watching world. In fact, I think this is one of the reasons that God is so jealous for His image; He has taken no form other than us and in Messiah we are to reflect His image to the world.

The way we become accurate reflecters is, having been justified, we subsequently grow in sanctification, imitating with ever more accuracy our Lord Jesus Christ (“Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children.” Eph 5:1).

A young child imitates his parents by watching them. I’ve seen a picture from my childhood that left a significant impression on me. I must be 3 or 4 years old and my dad is standing at the bathroom mirror shaving, while I’m standing on the toilet lid next to him also scraping shaving cream off my face with an empty razor.

The question is how do we “watch” God in order to imitate Him? The answer is His commandments. The church has universally taken the position that the Law of God is the expression of His character, and as such when we obey the laws of God, we imitate His character. When we read the Gospels we see an example of God incarnate walking out His laws in a fully human yet fully divine manner. This is what it means for Jesus to have “fulfilled” the law. First, Jesus embodied the law, secondly He lived according to it perfectly. This is the example we are to “watch” and imitate. Follow Jesus and labor to keep the law in the same manner as He did.

I was tickled this morning to run across a verse that makes this entire concept explicit. Psalm 105 is a recounting of the wondrous deeds of God on behalf of His people. It ends with an explanation of God’s purpose in working on our behalf:

So he brought his people out with joy; his chosen ones with singing.
And he gave them the lands of the nations,
And they took possession of the fruit of the people’s toil,
That they might keep his statutes and observe his laws.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 105:44-45 ESV)

Did you notice the significance? The psalmist tells us that God did all these wondrous deeds “in order that” His people might keep his statutes and observe his laws! Why is that our mission? Because when we imitate/reflect God’s image we will be a “city set on a hill.”

God-Oriented Choices

Several days ago I posted about Identity, opining that “Who we are is the sum of our choices.” This evening I’ve been pondering how brilliant it was of God to give us a list of “approved” choices.

Think about it; knowing that our identity is largely comprised of the accumulation of the choices we make, God gave us a list of “pre-approved” choices that would all contribute to a sense of personal dignity. Perhaps this is some part of what He meant in Deuteronomy 30.

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16 ESV)

Whenever I read God talking about “life” or “live” I always think of Jesus’ words:

… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)

And I recall that God’s comment regarding living in His way was that it’s not an impossible task, but that it is within our reach to choose wisely today.

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off….But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11, 14 ESV)

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34 ESV)

Unique by Design

The following note was found penciled in the flyleaf of C.S. Lewis’ copy of Eternal Life: A Study of Its Implications and Applications by Baron Friedrich von Hugel:

It is not an abstraction called Humanity that is to be saved. It is you, . . . your soul, and, in some sense yet to be understood, even your body, that was made for the high and holy place. All that you are . . . every fold and crease of your individuality was devised from all eternity to fit God as a glove fits a hand. All that intimate particularity which you can hardly grasp yourself, much less communicate to your fellow creatures, is no mystery to Him. He made those ins and outs that He might fill them. Then He gave your soul so curious a life because it is the key designed to unlock that door, of all the myriad doors in Him.

This intrigues me for a couple reasons. First, it is fascinating to read something scribbled by Lewis for his own reflection. Second, I’m convinced that we need to spend a lot more time on what Lewis said was “yet to be understood,” the uniqueness of our individual bodies and the role they play in our spiritual formation. Third, I’m fascinated by the concept we are uniquely designed both to uniquely relate to God, and to relay particular facets of God’s character to the rest of His children.

This note was quoted in Corbin Scott Carnell’s book, Bright Shadow of Reality: C.S. Lewis and the Feeling Intellect, but I ran across the quote in Eugene Peterson’s book, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.

The Way of Salvation

Well. I began reading a new book a few days ago titled, The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification, by Paul A. Rainbow and published in 2005 by Paternoster Press. (By the way, these guys are publishing some seriously interesting books! There’s another book coming down the pike from them that is a review of the wide spectrum of Messianic theology–I can’t wait to read that.)

Anyway, Dr. Rainbow is a man of significant intestinal fortitude, because he is daring to challenge an idea (sola fide) that has been cherished for centuries. In fact, not just cherished, but waved as the primal evidence of Protestant orthodoxy.

Read his description of his core idea:

“My thesis in a nutshell is that, though the Reformers had Paul on their side in decrying merit before conversion and rightly emphasized that God freely imputes Christ’s righteousness to a believing sinner apart from prior moral efforts, nevertheless they were wrong to exclude ‘evangelical obedience’ (as the Puritans called deeds produced by divine grace in the lives of the redeemed) from having a secondary role in the way of salvation which we tread thereafter. Paul and James alike point to good works as the pathway to God’s approval at the last judgment, and they consider this future moment an integral part of justification itself. For persons to be justified in the full sense, God’s present imputation of righteousness to those who are incorporate in Christ by faith must be legitimized in the end by his approbation of an actual righteousness which he brings about in them during the meantime. While faith is the ultimate condition for both events, deeds are proximately conditional in their own right for the culminating event. My understanding of the grammar and of the implied metaphysics of Scripture requires me to engage sharply with the Reformers over the issue of how Christian obedience relates to justification in eschatalogical perspective. Sola fide is true when it describes how we first enter into a new standing with God, but it oversimplifies the nature of the Christian journey into the coming age, with potentially disastrous effects.” (xvi)

“A fresh look at the doctrine of sola fide is needed for at least three further reasons. Its method violates the rule of the scriptural canon. In substance, stress on faith alone severs justification too cleanly from sanctification. And with regard to its effects in history, the doctrine is dangerous. Since the 1520s, it has proven powerless to check repeated outbreaks of antinomianism (opposition to the teaching of moral law) in churches indebted to the Reformation, resulting in large fringes of congregants today imbued with the heresy that without mortifying sins they can nevertheless rest assured of reaching heaven.” (xvii)

It’s too early for me to be able to evaluate whether I think his over all analysis is correct or not. However, his reading of the effects of antinomianism is dead on. I’m looking forward to finishing this book.