Nehemiah or Noah?

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our country is burning; we ought to have this degree of urgency: the home (country) you live in is burning—not smoldering, burning.

If you don’t think so, read this article from the New York Times: Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana.  Note these frightening words, “…church leaders must be made to take homosexuality off the sin list.”  Did you catch that? Not ‘must be persuaded,’ but “must be made.” Compelled. Forced. Your children are already being labeled bigots; not will be some day—are now being ostracized and the society prepared to marginalize and eradicate them in the near future.

And it’s not as if this article is alone, nor even rare…this is the growing consensus—even amongst a rapidly growing number of Christians (and so-called Christians).

What must we do? First, we must recognize where we are, and just as importantly, how we got here. To that end, please read this article by Douglas Wilson: “Our Transgressive Daisy Chain.”

That article is a desperately needed call to clarity and to action. So what do we do?  I believe the best plan of action I’ve yet seen can be digested in the following series of articles (also a book) by Joel McDurmon: “Restoring American One County at a Time.”

The above should coalesce all faithful believers around this common cause. Listen! God will raise up either a Nehemiah or a Noah. Would you not rather see the walls rebuilt than the place destroyed?

Finally, note these words from the NYT article, “Then there’s the 2014 book “God and the Gay Christian” [sic] by Matthew Vines, who has garnered significant attention and drawn large audiences for his eloquent take on what the New Testament —which is what evangelicals draw on and point to — really communicates.”

Did you catch that? What is the real origin of the Church’s failure? The bifurcation of the Bible, and only by Recovering the Unity of the Bible will we be able to lay a foundation capable of bearing the load of the walls in such desperate need of repair.

How did the repair of Jerusalem’s walls begin? Nehemiah received a message similar to the one you’ve just read. “The remnant…is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

May we respond like Nehemiah:

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying…”O LORD GOD of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments… let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Nehemiah wept, mourned, prayed, and then took action. I have shown you a mirror, do not walk away and forget what you saw, but be a doer of the Word, not a hearer only.

Quiet mid-western town's girl's golf and softball coach tweets.

The Process of Discipleship: Invitation to Imitation

I was praying this morning asking God to show me His divine design for discipleship from Scripture. In other words, “Lord what is your process for discipleship?”

Here’s what I heard: Invitation to Imitation.

Where do we see Invitation?

Psalm 34:8a, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”

Zechariah 3:10 “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

Matthew 22:2, 9 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, … Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.”

Matthew 4:19 “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'”

Matthew 9:9 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

John 1:35-39 “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.‘”

John 1:43 “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.'”

Where do we see Imitation?

John 12:26 “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

1 Corinthians 4:15-16 “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

2 Timothy 1:13 “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Hebrews 6:11-12 “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

What should we understand from the concept of Invitation?

In order to invite someone, there must be already in existence something to join. There must be a place, or a group, or a way to which you are inviting.

And what should we understand from the concept of Imitation?

One only imitates that which works. The patterns we teach and which we exemplify must be made of “sound words,” it must be patterned after those who have inherited the promises. “Consider the outcome of their way of life…”

Psalm 145:4 “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

Psalm 78:4-8 “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”

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.

The Effects of Antinomianism

I’ve been reading some of the writings of a Puritan minister named Isaac Ambrose lately. First of all, let’s just say that these guys swam in the deep end of the pool–whewee! Digging through their thoughts is well worth it, but you are laboring for your reward–best not to read these guys on the Sabbath! (just kidding) Just to give you a taste of the character of these fellows–it was the habit of Rev. Ambrose to take one month a year and spend it in a small shack set up in the woods not far from his home, avoid all contact with other humans and devote himself to contemplation. Ambrose describes this practice himself in his diary:

I came to Weddicre [i.e., one of the woods to which he withdrew for his annual retreats], which I did upon mature resolution, every year about that pleasant spring time (if the Lord pleased) to retire myself, and in some solitary and silent place to practice especially the secret duties of a Christian: In this place are sweet silent woods, and therein this month, and part of the next, the Lord by his Spirit wrought in me evangelical repentance for sin, gave me sweet comforts, and spiritual refreshings in my commerce and intercourse with him, by prayer, and meditation, and self-examination, and discovered to me the causes of my many troubles and discouragements in my ministry….

Anyway, I became interested in Isaac Ambrose (1604-1664) because of an article in The Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, Vol 3, No 1 (Spring 2010). Indeed, this article was the first time I’ve ever heard of the guy. One of Ambrose’s works was titled Media: The Middle Things, In Reference to the First and Last Things, or The Means, Duties, Ordinances, both Secret, Private, and Public for Continuance and Increase of a Godly Life, (Once Begun,) Till We Come to Heaven, how’s that for a descriptive title!

The Puritans, who by the way, typically get an undeservedly bad rap, had a fascinating way of discussing various spiritual disciplines. They divided them up into three types: secret, private, and public. “Secret” described the individual’s personal spiritual practices, while “private” referred to what ought to be engaged in by a small group such as family or friends gathering in a home, and “public” referred to larger gatherings for the practice of corporate worship. Ambrose defined spiritual disciplines as “any practices that awaken, strengthen, or deepen a person’s relationship with the Triune God.”

But here, in particular, is what caught my attention: in Tom Schwand’s article about Ambrose, titled “‘Hearts Sweetly Refreshed’: Puritan Spiritual Practices Then and Now” I read the following:

He [Ambrose] acknowledges that spiritual duties were not popular in his day, due in part to the reality of antinomianism that was prevalent in his region of Lancashire. This tended to minimize the necessity for spiritual disciplines since they believed that Jesus had already accomplished all that was required and therefore, there was no need to spend one’s time in cultivating a deeper personal relationship with God.

My attention was arrested by the reality that the same theological error that plagues us today, also plagued the 17th century, and caused similar consequences then as it has today.

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)

The Present Role of the Law (Torah)

Even the Apostle Peter said that St. Paul’s writings were difficult to understand, and throughout history Christian men (and women) have often found them difficult to align congruently with the rest of Scripture.

In the past 150 years it has become fashionable to act—and even believe—that the Law was done away with by Messiah’s sacrifice. In a certain and specific sense that is true; but the way in which it has commonly come to be understood is blatantly and grievously erroneous.

Dispensationalism was largely responsible for spreading this unfortunate idea; an idea that is in many ways responsible for the present deplorable state of Christian morals in America (see Barna’s recent report). What I find so astounding, however, is the degree to which the dispensational approach to Paul’s writings have so profoundly influenced those who would vigorously protest any suggestion that they are dispensationalists.

But more to the point, or at least to my point, is this assertion: it has been the predominant, historic, and orthodox Christian belief that every believer is beholden to keep God’s commandments as they exist in both the Old and New Testaments.  Attempts to figure out how to walk out that obligation vary widely, and I have my own opinion. The point, however, is that varying applications aside, we must agree that, as Article 7 of the Articles of Religion state:

…no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

Granted, that begs the question, “Which commandments are moral?” But I leave that for another discussion.

Allow me, finally, to arrive at the quote which I originally set out to blog upon.

The following was written between 1832 and 1863 by Charles Simeon, the father of Anglican evangelicals, fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge.

He begins with stating the objection urged against the Gospel; “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” And then he answers it at large; and affirms, that the covenant of grace, so far from invalidating our obligation to good works, absolutely secures the performance of thema….[1]

[Christ, our incarnate Lord, has fulfilled every part of God’s law; enduring its penalties, as well as executing its commands: and this he has done, as our Surety: so that, if we believe in him, we may plead his obedience unto death in bar of all the punishment it denounces against us; and may even plead it also as having procured for us a title to all its promised blessings. Our blessed Lord, in fulfilling the law, has abrogated it as a covenant; and has obtained for us a new and better covenant, of which he himself is the Suretyb. As a rule of conduct, the law does, and ever must, continue in force; because it is the transcript of the mind and will of God, and contains a perfect rule for the conduct of his creaturesc: but as a, covenant it is dissolved; and is, in respect of us, dead; so that we have no more connexion with it than a woman has with her deceased husband: our obligations to it, and our expectations from it, have ceased for everd.[2]


a Rom. 6:14–16.

[1]Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 15: Romans(London, 1832-63). 165.

b Heb. 8:6, 8, 13.

c 1 Cor. 9:21.

d Gal. 2:19.

[2]Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 15: Romans (London, 1832-63). 166.

Fulfilling the Law

What does Paul mean in Romans 8:4 when he says that the aim of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection is that “the righteous requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”?

Wait a minute! Isn’t Christ the fulfillment of the Law? Why does it say fulfilled in us?! In Appendix 6 to his latest book, The Future of Justification, John Piper sets out to answer this question.

Some take this to mean that Christ fulfilled the law for us when he obeyed it perfectly and died as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf.[1]

Piper agrees that this is true, “but,” he goes on to say:

I don’t think that is the point of verse 4.

Piper goes on to point out that the text does not say that the law is fulfilled for us but in us. He observes that the text indicates this fulfillment will take place by way of walking or doing, by way of living it out. (What, we must ask, is the antecedent of “it”?) In verse 4 it says that the fulfilling will take place in those who walk “according to the Spirit.” We would be remiss, however, not to note that walking in the Spirit is contrasted with walking in the flesh, and the fleshly person is described as one who “does not submit to God’s law.” (verse 7). As opposed, it is clearly inferred, to those who walk in the Spirit and therefore do submit to God’s law.

So Piper sets out to answer the obvious question:

What does it mean to fulfill the requirement of the law? And specifically, how can any of my “walking” by the Spirit—which is always imperfect in this life—be said to fulfill God’s law, which is holy and just and good?[2]

He then sets down 12 theses on the Law in an attempt to answer these questions. His 12 theses follow. I will be engaging each of them in subsequent blogs (they’re pretty good, actually).

1. Fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4 refers to a life of real love for people (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-18; Matt. 7:12; 22:37-40).

2. Our fulfilling God’s law in loving others is not the ground of our justification. The ground of justification is the sacrifice and obedience of Christ alone, appropriated through faith alone before any other acts are performed. Our fulfilling the law is the fruit and evidence of being justified by faith (Rom. 3:20-22, 24-25, 28; 4:4-6; 5:19; 8:3; 10:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).

3. This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others is rendered not in our own strength but by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:13-16, 22-23).

4. This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit is rendered by faith, that is, by being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ and him crucified-the perseverance of the same faith that justifies (Gal. 3:5; 5:6; 1 Tim. 1:5; Heb. 11:6, 24-26; 10:34).

5. This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit by faith is not a perfect love in this life (Rom. 7:15, 19, 23-25; Phil. 3:12).

6. But this fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit by faith will become perfect when we die or when Christ returns, and we will live in the perfection of love forever (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 12:22-23).

7. Even though we will one day be perfected in love, the totality of our existence, from conception to eternity, will never be a perfect one, because it will always include the first chapter of our fallen life. We will always be forgiven-that is, we will always be those who have sinned. We will always be in need of an imputed, alien righteousness and a sin-bearing Substitute for our right standing before God. In this way, Christ will be glorified forever in our salvation. We will forever lean on his righteousness and his sacrifice (Heb. 7:25; Rev. 5:9-10; 15:3).

8. Even though imperfect, this Spirit-dependent, Christ-exalting love (which is essentially self-sacrificing gladness in the temporal and eternal good of others, 2 Cor. 8:1-2, 8) is the true and real direction of life that God’s law requires. In this life, we have new direction, not full perfection. This direction is what the law demands on the way to perfection (cf. texts under #1).

9. This fulfilling of the Old Testament law in the loving of others through the Spirit by faith is sometimes called “the law of liberty” (James 1:25; 2:12) and “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2).

9.1. When the fulfilling of the law is called “the law of liberty,” it means that, in the pursuit of love, Christians are free from law-keeping as the ground of our justification and as the power of our sanctification. Instead, we pursue it by the “law of the Spirit of life . . . in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2). We look to the Spirit of Christ for transformation so that love flows by power from within, not pressure from without. We are dead to law-keeping and therefore at liberty to bear fruit for God in the newness of the Spirit (Rom. 7:4, 6). The law of liberty is the leading of the Spirit, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17) (Jas. 1:25; 2:10-12; Gal. 5:1; Rom. 7:4, 6; 2 Cor. 3:17-18).

9.2. When the fulfilling of the law is called “the law of Christ,” it means that our pursuit of love is guided and enabled by the life, word, and Spirit of Jesus Christ. The law of Christ is not a new list of behaviors on the outside, but a new Treasure, Friend, and Master on the inside. He did give us “a new commandment” (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also are to love one another,” John 13:34). But this standard of love is the life and power of a person who indwells us by his Spirit (Rom. 7:4; 8:11). We pursue love as “the law of Christ” by looking to Christ as our sin-covering sacrifice, our all-sufficient righteousness, our all-satisfying Treasure, our all-providing Protection and Helper, and our all-wise counselor and guide (Rom. 7:4; 8:9, 12-14; 1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 2:20; 6:2).

10. The Old Testament law can be understood narrowly as a set of commandments, or more broadly as the entire teaching of the Pentateuch, or even as all the instruction of God in the Old Testament wherever he gives it.

10.1. In the narrow sense, one may think of the law as commanding perfect obedience that, if we could perform it (the way Adam should have) by depending on God’s help, would be our righteousness and the ground of our justification. But, because of our sin, the law does not lead to life in this way (Gal. 3:21), but shuts us up to look away from law-keeping to Christ so that we might be justified through faith in him (Gal. 3:21-25).

10.2. In the broader sense of the whole Pentateuch or the whole Old Testament, we may think of the law not merely as making demands, but also as offering justification through faith by pointing forward to a Redeemer who would provide the ground of that justification, and in whom Jews and Gentiles would be counted righteous because of his blood and righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3; Rom. 3:19-22).

11. When the law is understood in its entirety, its aim is that Jesus Christ get the glory as the one who provides the only ground for our imputed righteousness through faith (justification) and the only power for our imparted righteousness through faith (sanctification) (Rom. 5:19; 10:4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 1:11; 3:8-9).

12. Therefore, I give a summarizing three-part answer to the question, “How can our imperfect obedience and love fulfill the perfect law of God?”

12.1. First, our imperfect love is, nevertheless, real, God-dependent, Spirit-enabled, Christ-exalting love that flows from our justification and is not a means to it. And therefore it is the new direction that the law was aiming at and what the new covenant promised. In short, Christ-exalting love as the fruit of faith is what the law was aiming at.

12.2. Second, our imperfect love is the first-fruits of a final perfection that Christ will complete in us at his appearing. Romans 8:4 does not say that the entire fulfillment of the law happens in us now. But our walk by the Spirit begins now, and so does our fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law.

12.3. Finally, our imperfect love is the fruit of our faith in Jesus who is himself our only justifying perfection before God. In other words, the only law-keeping we depend on as the ground of our justification is Jesus’ law-keeping. His was perfect. Ours is imperfect. And so we will never (even in eternity) have a whole life of perfection to offer God. The acceptability of our lives to all eternity will always depend on the perfection of Jesus offered in our place. Our imperfect love now and our perfect love later will always be the fruit of faith that looks to Jesus as our only complete perfection. In the end, the law is fulfilled in us everlastingly because it was fulfilled in him from everlasting to everlasting. Our imperfection and need is a pointer to his perfection and all-sufficiency; and that pointing-that exaltation of Christ-is the aim of the law.

 The entire book may be read online here.


[1] Piper, John. The Future of Justification. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 215[2] Ibid, 216