Theology Thursday


Happy New Year! I have seen countless articles leading into today about various New Year’s resolutions and how to keep them. Maybe you have a resolution and maybe you don’t. But I would encourage you think about how you can intentionally and purposefully read your Bible this year. David Mathis posted a good article, Bible Reading is an Art, at Desiring God yesterday that I would encourage you to look at.

Where to begin? There are numerous Bible reading plans out there, and even daily Bibles, designed to help guide you in reading. There is a helpful list available at the ESV website. By far my favorite is the Chronological Reading Plan from Back to the Bible. I have printed this on a 3×5, laminated, and I keep it in my Bible. Whatever you do I pray that you would be resolved to stay in the Word this year and that you will thoughtfully plan through what this will look like.

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Watch this! ‘Nuff said.

The relationship between knowledge and spiritual growth is an interesting one. On the one hand, it is God’s revelation of himself that must change us –  we gain an increase in knowledge that makes us see and hear better spiritually, understand differently, or experience a change of heart or attitude.

On the other hand, knowledge itself does not automatically equate to spiritual change. We can know lots about God and still be very ungodly or even an unbeliever. To loosely quote J. I. Packer:  A little of knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about God.

But what about the knowledge we never encounter? For instance, what if the church at Ephesus had never read the letter Paul wrote to them, aptly named “Ephesians”?  Or similarly, how many times during a month do we settle for meager amounts of the revelation of God?

The primary place this shows up is our approach to time in the Scriptures. We commonly compromise and sell ourselves short; we settle for something much less than what we could be pursuing.

We also come up short, though, with other areas of our lives. We easily dismiss ourselves from being under the preaching and teaching of God’s word. Many times the very thing we need to hear we don’t hear because we’re not closely listening or we can’t hear because we’re not physically there. (“Active listening”, as some call it.)

We are usually selective in what we hear – we listen when we think there is something we need to know. In this way, we can easily tune out God’s Word, even while we are reading the Bible or hearing biblical preaching. In all of this, we need to admit: “We don’t know what we don’t know,” in somewhat Yogi Berra sounding words. To this end, then, we are often changed by encountering truth that we did not expect and were not seeking, but we have to be intentional to put ourselves in the right places to hear.

Even more pointedly, it is one’s central focus on the gospel that changes him or her, and so the gospel must be present to bring about that change. A gospel that is merely in the back of our minds is not life-changing any more than yesterday’s drink quenches today’s thirst. The gospel cannot simply be a knowledge “event” somewhere in the past. The Christian cannot do without a present, focused mind on the gospel of Jesus – today. Such a mind, of course, comes with intentional action: Set your mind on things above. (Colossians 3:1) Have this mind in you. (Philippians 2:5) Think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

I think there are some important and encouraging connections to be drawn between the “Parable of the Persistent Widow” and the “Temptation of Christ.” When I taught through the temptation (MP3 / PDF) I outlined three tensions that we find in that text.

  • The Father’s Provision or Self-Preservation (Luke 4:1-4)
  • The Father’s Providence or Self-Glorification (Luke 4:5-8)
  • The Father’s Protection or Self-Vindication (Luke 4:9-12)

The temptations are an attack upon Jesus’ confidence in His Father. The Serpent comes to challenge His faithfulness. Will Jesus trust in the Father’s provision or will He rebelliously act to preserve His own life? Will Jesus embrace the Father’s providence, the Father’s foreordained plan, by patiently waiting for the Father to exalt Him or will He seek to exalt Himself in an act of unbelief? Will Jesus place His confidence in the Father’s protection or will He doubt and attempt to vindicate Himself against this accuser.

This is where we arrive in Luke 18 with Christ’s question, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Like the author of Psalm 42 the elect will face moments of injustice of unanswered prayers and their tears will cry out, “Where is your God?” Against the backdrop of this future reality Jesus asks if He will find faith on the earth at His return. Will the people of God trust the Father’s provision, His providence, and His protection or will they abandon the promises in unbelief?

I pray that you find great encouragement in the reality that the same Spirit that indwelled and empowered Christ during His desert conflict will likewise enable you to triumph over the Tempter so that when your tears cry out “where is your God” you will be able to answer them with Spirit-filled faithfulness.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

Revelation 12:11

I have long touted the helpfulness of a message that Timothy Keller has preached on several occasions in one form or another which centers around the specific ways that change happens in the life of a believer through the gospel at work in us. (Though my favorite version is no longer online as audio, you can watch it as video here.) It may sound simple and awfully familiar, but when one tries to scratch below the surface to the specifics, such as how the gospel changes one’s issue with, say, anger, the working out of the connections can be difficult to conceive.

Along the same lines is the teaching found here in a quote from Tullian Tchividjian’s book:

It’s almost as if, for me, the gospel changed from something hazy and monochromatic to something richly multicolored, vivid, and vibrant. I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel—that the gospel doesn’t simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future; it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance (more on all this later). Through my pain, I was being convinced all over again that the power of the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before.

The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is the one we often call “legalism.” I like to call it performancism. Still another way of viewing it, especially in its most common manifestation in Christians, is moralism. Strictly speaking, those three terms—legalism, performancism, and moralism—aren’t precisely identical in what they refer to. But there’s so much overlap and interconnection between them that we’ll basically look at them here as one thing… It shows up when behavioral obligations are divorced from gospel declarations, when imperatives are disconnected from gospel indicatives. Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game.

You can read the longer quotation from the book at Mbird.com’s “Jesus Plus Nothing Equals a Gospel Tornado.” 

Does “tornado” sound a little harsh? If you will dwell on the difference between what most of us naturally perceive to be the way to change and the way that the gospel should change us, then I think the analogy becomes increasingly accurate:  the gospel destroys our man-made solutions.

Are you willing to think differently about what changes us? Then, are you willing to delve deeply enough into the gospel to see it change you?

 

Powerful, even all-powerful, does not do justice to what it means that God is the King, the Ruler, with absolute sovereignty over all things. God’s absolute sovereignty over all things is worked out through what we call “providence” in the way that God orchestrates all things according to his will. Consider a rather easily-overlooked testimony of this in Exodus 34:

Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. (Exodus 34:23-24, ESV)

In calling his people to obey, God sovereignly eliminates one of the reasons they would have for worrying about their obedience. When all the males were to assemble, God explains that the unprotected land would be safe. Not only would it be protected from their enemies, God speaks in terms that it would not even be coveted by their enemies. God is not simply powerful in great measure to protect the land with his angel armies or a whisper of his voice (powerful enough to create the land in question.) Instead, God is powerfully ruling even over the desires of the surrounding nations.

All of this comes to its apex at the cross of Christ. Acts 2:22-24 explains:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know– this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (ESV)

As D. A. Carson puts it:  “The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.”

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