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.

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.

Piper’s 12 Theses #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).


By the way, if you’re wondering what these posts are related to you can check out the rest of the pertinent posts at:

Wright, Piper and the Justification Controversy

Fulfilling the Law

Piper’s 12 Theses #1

Piper’s 12 Theses #2

Piper’s 12 Theses #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).

Yes, it is rendered by faith and through faith, but it is critical to recall that the Hebrew word for “faith” and for “faithfulness” is emunah. One of the ways that the fulfillment of God’s law is rendered in us is by our obedience to it, in our walking.

…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

according to the Spirit, who is after all writing that very same law on our hearts.

Piper’s 12 Theses #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).

I am in total agreement with this thesis, after all it agrees completely with the role of the Spirit as listed in Jeremiah 31:33,

…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts….

Learn to Worship from Leviticus?

Have you ever begun reading through the Bible from cover to cover only to get bogged down in Leviticus? That is, if you made it through the genealogies in Genesis! Well, then this article is for you—to inspire you with new interest in the book of torat kohanim, a title that can be translated both “instruction for the priests” and “instruction by the priests.”

You may wonder, what was the over-arching purpose behind these instructions both for and by the priests? Leviticus is designed to teach a holy people how to live in fellowship with a holy God. But more than that, by gifting Israel with laws that secure their well-being, God enables His people to be a blessing to the nations.[1]

I’m struck by the sacramental nature of this description. Do we understand the role of God’s commandments, wherever they might appear in Scripture, as existing to train, teach, and prepare the people of God to be His instrument of grace to an observing world? We are to be visible signs of an invisible grace, imparted to a called-out people as we walk according to the Holy Spirit and submit our minds to the Law of God (Rom. 8:1-7).[2]

As the perennial Passover story reminds us, God was intent on securing a people; a people who would reflect His character to the world. This would require a series of laws, teachings and instructions designed to distinguish God’s people from the teeming masses. His holiness dictates that any approach to God must acknowledge the yawning gulf between the character of God and the flawed nature of humanity. The distinctions of Leviticus help mortals realize that God is un-approachably different from His creation.

It is only after apprehending a proper fear of God that we can begin to comprehend Him as a loving and benevolent Father. “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you…then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”[3] It is often recalled that knowing in the Hebraic sense implies intimacy, so we should understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of an intimate relationship with Him.

Paradoxically, by emphasizing His radical otherness God prepared His people for their world mission; the task of revealing a totally holy but completely loving Father. As our Creator, God realized we would be tempted to short-circuit our relationship with Him. We want to re-make Him as a glorified buddy; we want all the ooey-gooey and none of the wonder; all the blessing and none of the consequence. Leviticus reminds us that God’s divine transcendence requires He be separate from sin, and calls His followers to be likewise holy. Yet every call for distinction is accompanied by a way of re-establishing connection, displaying God’s mercy.

These thoughts prompt us to ask a rather obvious question. Given that there is no Aaronic priesthood, no earthly Temple, no Theocratic government, how are we to set about applying the instructions of a book like Leviticus? King Messiah Fellowship’s Statement of Foundational Beliefs suggests the following approach:

We believe the Bible is a revelation of the righteousness of God, and a description of the lifestyle of the redeemed community throughout history. While God’s commandments are to be considered prescriptive, we acknowledge that they require adaptation from generation to generation.

But what does that look like? I suggest you begin by contemplating the idea that the laws of Leviticus should somehow apply to you. As you meditate on God’s laws, He will begin to make clear to you how they might be made use of in your day-to-day existence. We have a wonderful treasure in the traditions of the Jews; the record of a people who have wrestled with how to practically obey God’s laws for centuries. We can mine their history and culture for suggestions on what a particular obedience might look like.

True worship is where the external forms of religion meet the day-to-day activities of life. And God wants us to understand that day-to-day is the greatest opportunity to sanctify ourselves as we partner with Him in the repair of the world. How do we repair the world? By finding and celebrating the image of God that is reflected in those around us. As for you, and as for me, let’s be distinct—so the reflection of God is easier to spot!

Remember, Leviticus is designed to prepare God’s people to accomplish their world mission—to display God’s character to the watching world. How will a bit more wonder change your life?

[1] Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. “The Book of Leviticus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible – Vol. 1, ed Keck, Leander. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994) 987, 998

[2] Note that “walk” and “mind” indicates that there must be a whole life commitment; one cannot separate mental acknowledgement from practical outworking.

[3] Proverbs 2:1,5 (ESV) cf. Job 28:28