Love Works in Surprising Ways

Sometimes it’s the little things that get you.

Yesterday I used up the last of my bar of Grandpa’s Pine Tar soap (wonderful stuff!), and I thought, “Oh, need to make sure I grab a new bar,” but by the time the shower door closed I was thinking about why κοίνου is translated “unclean” in Romans 14:14.

Today when I hit the shower, there was a brand new bar of soap! Only my wife would first of all notice that my soap was gone, secondly, remember further than the bathroom door, and replace it with a new bar. I am truly blessed by an amazing woman, well-suited for me!

Now you folks need to understand, I live in a home with multiple families and my soap is kept in our bedroom, not in the bathroom, so if I had stepped into the shower to find no soap at all… well, that’s just a very inconvenient circumstance!

Babe, I love you! Thanks for enabling me to think theologically no matter where I find myself!

Is it a sin?

“Is it a sin?”

I’ve heard this question delivered with defiance and with sincere desire to understand. In this vein sometimes one hears, “Is it a sin, or just not recommended?” The question can apply to almost any behavior (or lack thereof) and is typically trotted out in discussion about something different than your conversation partner’s present practice.

“Is it a sin?” is a loaded question both in terms of what it reveals about a perspective too many of us unconsciously share, and in what it suggests may be behind the perspective of the person to whom the question is posed.

But let me put it this way: sin is anything less than the perfect glory of God (Romans 3:23), so yes, doing anything Jesus wouldn’t do is a sin. However, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jess….shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid!

So what am I saying? We are swimming in sins of a variety of kinds, some of ignorance, some of weakness, and some of our own deliberate fault; praise be to God that we have forgiveness of these many sins through the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. So, now that I have no obligation to earn my salvation or to try and improve God’s opinion of me, I am now free to diligently labor to imitate Jesus ever more faithfully over time, as He leads and convicts me, and enabled to do so by the presence and leading of His Spirit in my new man. We are privileged to have His help in gradually re-fashioning our selves back into the image in which we were originally created.

I thought about it this morning, when once again God woke me up 30 minutes before my alarm, and I sensed He was calling me to come spend time with Him. Yesterday, I started praying but stayed in bed… there is this complex mixture of truths that I reflected on as I sat on the edge of my bed and then shuffled downstairs. On the one hand, I realize that God is calling me to live up to the potential for which He created me, and the circumstances of my life will be altered as a result of how faithful or unfaithful I am to His ways. On the other hand, I thought about how I feel when I open my kids bedroom door at 6:30 am and they moan and stretch and then rise to go swim… my feelings are entirely loving and positive–there is no condemnation or impatience in my heart, just love for them–and I pondered the truth that this is how God feels about me as well. And some mornings because I both want what is best for them, but also have compassion on them, I want to just let them sleep…as we did this morning. And I know that this too is what God is like: 

Psalm 103:13–14 

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Letter to My Kids on Tattoos

Dear Kids,

As you know, I have a tattoo on my left leg. Knowing that is the case, what would my advice to you be about getting a tattoo or getting noticeable piercings? I’m glad you asked! <wink>

First, let’s discuss whether the Bible has anything to say about this topic. The majority of people will tell you that anything the Bible has to say on the topic doesn’t apply today. That’s hogwash, although I didn’t know that when I got a tattoo.

I was raised in a fairly typical evangelical home where I learned that either God’s law has been done away with, or that the Law of Moses has been replaced with the Law of Christ. Neither one of those ideas is biblical, but you will find that most American Christians today believe something along those lines.

So what is the truth? If when in need of justification, the law of God continues today to point out our sin and our subsequent need of a Saviour, then it necessarily follows that God’s law continues to instruct us today, once we have been justified. In other words, if without God the law condemns us, then it must be true that with God the law instructs us. According to the Bible sin is lawlessness (Romans 4:7; Hebrews 10:17; 1 John 3:4) and the wages of sin is death. What then is the converse of lawlessness? And of death? If, as Paul writes, the blessed are those, “whose lawless deeds are forgiven,” then what type of deeds will the blessed person be typified by? Lawful deeds, of course.

Please understand this clearly, I am not describing a peculiarly Calvinist or Arminian belief. Both perspectives agree, as I will evidence by quoting from both John Wesley (an Arminian) and J.I. Packer (a Calvinist).

“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.” – John Wesley

And now from the Calvinist:

“…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.” – 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.”  – J.I. Packer

So when we read in Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD,” we need to take this passage seriously as pertaining to our lives.

How are we to understand this passage? Why does God seem to care about marks on the body of His people? Well, perhaps we ought to ask if there are distinctively Christian marks? Indeed, the distinctively Christian mark is one that can only be seen by those who witness the event, and whose enduring evidence is to be your changed life. Whether circumcision or baptism, the marks mandated by God do not easily convey themselves to the casual observer. Furthermore, we are warned not to make our external trappings large or ostentatious (Matthew 23:5; 1 Peter 3:3-5), rather it is our actions that ought to identify us. Your mark is your baptism, and the evidence of your baptism is your walk. “[L]et your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.”

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10a).

Tattoos are tribal; with what tribe are you identifying? If your tattoo is “Christian,” you are revealing your ignorance of the Christian tribe’s way. Rather ironic isn’t it?

While there is much more to say on this topic (why, for example, do so many contemporary Christians desire strongly to imitate a distinctively pagan practice?) let us reflect on this passage:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16).

There is a cultural energy behind the practice of tattooing and there is no question that this energy comes from the world. The world, my children, is passing away, along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. What do you think is the will of God in regard to marking your body?

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

So the final word here is that God says not to, but many will argue that point, so I hope you’ve gleaned from these thoughts that if you desire a tattoo, you ought to be asking, what is wrong with my desires? Rather, I pray that the eyes of your heart (your imagination) might be enlightened, that you may know the great hope to which God has called you, and what are the riches of the glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward you. In other words, may your imagination be caught up by the vision of yourself as God sees you, and as He has fashioned you, and may all other desires fade in comparison!

“The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).

Antinomianism

WE ARE NOT SET FREE TO SIN

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Christ] is righteous. 1 JOHN 3:7

Antinomianism, which means being “anti-law,” is a name for several views that have denied that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life.

Dualistic antinomianism appears in the Gnostic heretics against whom Jude and Peter wrote (Jude 4–19; 2 Pet. 2). This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health, so one may behave riotously and it will not matter.

Spirit-centered antinomianism puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct. In the first 150 years of the Reformation era this kind of antinomianism often threatened, and Paul’s insistence that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word through Christ’s apostles (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 7:40) suggests that the Spirit-obsessed Corinthian church was in the grip of the same mind-set.

Christ-centered antinomianism argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing. But 1 John 1:8–2:1 (expounding 1:7) and 3:4–10 point in a different direction, showing that it is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace sin as a way of life.

Dispensational antinomianism holds that keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for Christians, since we live under a dispensation of grace, not of law. Romans 3:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 clearly show, however, that law-keeping is a continuing obligation for Christians. “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,” says Paul (1 Cor. 9:21).

Dialectical antinomianism, as in Barth and Brunner, denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written. The inadequacy of the neo-orthodox view of biblical authority, which explains the inspiration of Scripture in terms of the Bible’s instrumentality as a channel for God’s present-day utterances to his people, is evident here.

Situationist antinomianism says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of Scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at any time disregard. But Romans 13:8–10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces.

It must be stressed that the moral law, as crystallized in the Decalogue and opened up in the ethical teaching of both Testaments, is one coherent law, given to be a code of practice for God’s people in every age. In addition, repentance means resolving henceforth to seek God’s help in keeping that law. The Spirit is given to empower law-keeping and make us more and more like Christ, the archetypal law-keeper (Matt. 5:17). This law-keeping is in fact the fulfilling of our human nature, and Scripture holds out no hope of salvation for any who, whatever their profession of faith, do not seek to turn from sin to righteousness (1 Cor. 6:9–11; Rev. 21:8).[1]

[1] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993). pp. 178-180.

An Important Word for Our Time

We ought in these days to take note of the Barmen Declaration (1934), from which I excerpt the following.

2. “God made Jesus Christ to be for us our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Affirmation: Just as Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so also, and with the same earnestness, he is God’s powerful claim upon our entire life. Through him a joyous liberation from the godless conditions of this world occurs for us, a liberation for free, grateful service to his creatures.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if there are domains of our life in which we do not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, domains in which we would not need justification and sanctification by him.

3. “But let us be upright in love and grow in every respect into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Affirmation: The Christian church is the congregation of brothers in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the church of forgiven sinners, it has to testify in the midst of the world of sinners, both with its faith and its obedience, with its message as well as with its order, that it alone is his property, that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and by his direction in anticipation of his appearance.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church could relinquish the form of its message and its order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

5. “Fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Affirmation: Scripture says to us that the State, according to divine arrangement, has the task to be concerned for justice and peace in this still unredeemed world in which the church also stands, and to do so according to the standard of human insight and human ability, under penalty of threat and the use of force. In gratitude and reverence toward God, the church recognizes the benefit of this, his arrangement. The church reminds itself of God’s kingdom, of God’s command and justice, and thereby, of the responsibility of those governing and of the governed. It trusts and obeys the power of the word by which God upholds all things.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church, beyond its special task, should and could take over state-governmental actions, state-governmental tasks, and state-governmental positions and thereby become itself an organ of the state.[1]

[1] Martin Heimbucher and Rudolf Weth, eds., Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung: Einführung und Kokumentation, foreword by Wolfgang Huber (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2009), 33-43. Translated by Matthew Becker, Ph.D. (http://matthewlbecker.blogspot.com/…)

Citizenship in the Commonwealth

A homily upon the occasion of the baptism of my first god-daughter.

Delivered August 11, 2012.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you hear in the Gospel of Mark the words of our Savior Christ commanding the children to be brought to him. You see how he took them in his arms, and blessed them. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever. Do not doubt, therefore, but earnestly believe, that he loves this child, that he approves our bringing her to holy Baptism, that he is ready to receive her with the arms of his mercy, and to grant her membership in a covenant family.

But how further shall we understand this? How shall I explain the role that baptism plays in our salvation, which indeed is more than just a single moment and more than just the assurance of our eternal destiny, though indeed it gloriously includes the prospect of Eternity in concert and in community with our beloved Lord.

Baptism is more than just a symbol, yet it is not a condition of salvation; rather it is a seal and a sign of salvation, a helpful part of God’s ideal plan. Indeed, St. Peter reminds us: “Baptism…now saves you… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21). When the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they were saved by that act, though it wasn’t the power of the act that saved them, but the power of God that saved them. Nevertheless, had they failed to walk across the dry ground, they would not have been saved from Pharaoh. How can we explain this mystery?

So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh–called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” done by hand in the flesh. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with no hope and without God in the world. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:11-12, 19 (HCSB)

If an immigrant moves to the USA they must go through the conscious decision of becoming a citizen. Once they have made that decision, however, their children are born as citizens of the USA without any decision on the part of the infant. Infant baptism—as circumcision before it—is like the giving of a birth certificate to an infant. As an adult, the born-citizen will have the option of choosing to become the citizen of another “commonwealth,” but it is most common and it is to be hoped that most babies will grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Way and subsequently “confirm” their individual, conscious decision to remain a part of the commonwealth of Israel.

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.

Colossians 2:11-13 (HCSB)

You heard in the Epistle a description of the life of those redeemed. It is only by the grace of God, which enables and suffuses instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) that we may live thusly. Hear now the words of the Anglican fathers who summarized the teachings of Scripture as it regards the manner of salvation, the method of sanctification, and the use and purpose of baptism.

XXV. Of the Sacraments. Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

XXVII. Of Baptism. Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

Brothers and Sisters in Messiah, the Sacrament of Baptism is offered in the Church because our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born anew of water and the Holy Spirit. This new birth is necessary because all human beings have both an inclination towards evil and are also sinners. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in his great mercy he will grant new birth to Elizabeth that she may be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church and be made a living member of the same.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, you who mercifully saved Noah and his family in the Ark when the great flood came, who safely led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, symbolizing thereby your holy Baptism, and who, by the Baptism in the river Jordan of your dearly loved Son, Jesus Christ, sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin: We pray you, in your infinite mercy, to look on this child, wash and sanctify her by the Holy Spirit, in order that, being delivered from your wrath, she may be received into the Ark of Christ’s Church. Make her, we pray, to be steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in love, so that passing through the stormy waters of this troubled world, she may finally come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with you forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Since we are now persuaded of the good will of our heavenly Father towards Elizabeth, declared by his Son Jesus Christ, let us faithfully and devoutly give thanks to him and say together:

Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we humbly thank you for having called us to the knowledge of your grace and to faith in you. Increase this knowledge and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give your Holy Spirit to Elizabeth , that she may in the wonder of your plan for her be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Inescapable Logic

When you assume there is such a thing as evil,
you must assume there is such a thing as good.
When you assume there is such a thing as good,
you must assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil.
When you assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
you must posit a moral law Giver.

If there is no moral law Giver, there is no moral law.
If there is no moral law, there is no good.
If there is no good, there is no evil.

If sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4),
and all have sinned (Rom 3:23),
and if the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23),
then I need a Savior.

If I still need a Savior there must,
still be an eternal, moral law, or…
I no longer need a Savior.