Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Law

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled Jesus on Every Page; these are my notes from those classes.

I. Law in the Context of Grace

A. Freed unto Worship

  • “Before God gave Israel his law he gave them himself, as their redeemer. . .  In his grace and in faithfulness to his covenant promise, he had acted first and redeemed them.  He had not sent Moses with the ten commandments under his cloak to tell Israel that if they would keep the law, God would save them.  Precisely the other way around.  He saved them and then asked them to keep his law in response. . .  Obedience flows from grace; it does not buy it.”[1]

B. The Testimony of Scripture

  • The Nature of the Promise

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise (Galatians 3:16-18).

What is Paul’s point here?  How does he explain the relationship between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants?  Paul is explaining that God’s promise to Abraham, like the one in the garden, finds its fulfillment not in Abraham’s offspring in a general or plural sense but specifically in the singular offspring who is Jesus Christ.  Jesus will possess the gates of his enemies and in Christ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  Because this promise came before the promise to Moses it supersedes it and therefore law keeping cannot be a means of obtaining the inheritance.

  • Grace and Redemption Precede the Giving of the Law

1On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  2They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness.  There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3while Moses went up to God.  The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:1-6).

  • The Law Comes as a Result of the Promise

20“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt.  And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  22And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.  23And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers.  24And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.  25And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us’ (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

Because of His promise the Lord rescues His people from bondage and gives them the law.

II. Principles for Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Law

A. The Law Keeping is Not, Nor was it Ever, an Alternate Way to Establish Relationship with God

  • “The law of God is not a system of merit whereby the unsaved seek to earn divine favor but a pattern of life given by the Redeemer to the redeemed so that they might know how to live for his good pleasure.”[2]  Tim Keller puts it this way,

Traditional religion teaches that if we do good deeds and follow the moral rules in our external behavior, God will come into our hearts, bless us, and give us salvation.  In other words, if I obey, God will love and accept me.  But the gospel is the reverse of this: If I know in my heart that God has accepted me and loves me freely by grace, then I can begin to obey, out of inner joy and gratitude.  Religion is outside in, but the gospel is inside out.[3]

So we must be careful not to confuse the religion of the Pharisees with the gracious giving of the law to Israel.

B. Because of His Grace and in Fulfillment of the Promise Christ Keeps the Law on Our Behalf

  • We have seen this clearly outlined for us as we have gone through the Gospel of Luke.  From His birth, circumcision, baptism to His desert triumph over the Tempter and teaching; Luke presents Him as the keeper of the law as the true Adam and faithful Israel.  Jesus lives, dies, and is resurrected on our behalf.

C. The Division of the Law into Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial is Arbitrary at Best

  • The Ten Commandments set forth how we are to image and worship God then “after stating the law in broad, prescriptive, and principial terms, Moses begins the process of applying the Ten Commandments to the historical situation of Israel.”[4]  The law is therefore to be viewed as a unified application of the Ten Commandments to the whole of Israel’s life.  This “is what we find in the teaching of Jesus.  It was not just a repetition of all the laws, like a shopping list.  Nor was it a new law that disregarded the original.  Rather, he restored the true perspective and essential point of the law.  He brought back the urgent appeal of Moses for a single-minded, uncomplicated loyalty to God.”[5]
  • There are differing views on this.  David Murray, the author of Jesus on Every Page, argues that the moral law was given to Adam and Eve and is imbedded in the human conscience and was given to Moses in written form.  The ceremonies prescribed by the Ceremonial law were abolished as Christ has replaced the tabernacle and temple.  The civil law of Israel ceased to exist with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  I do not, however, find Murray’s argument to be convincing.

D. The Structure of the Pentateuch Anticipates a Time of Eschatological Fulfillment

  • “The outlook is eschatological and anticipates a time when that which the law did not achieve in Israel will be the reality.”[6]  From the rebellion of Adam to the golden calf and culminating in the covenant in Deuteronomy the narrative structure of the Pentateuch points to a fulfillment beyond itself (cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

III. Encouragement Along the Way

A. Looking Beyond the Covenants Thus Far

  • “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
  • With the mention of heart circumcision as a divine enabling to fulfill the greatest commandment the Pentateuch closes and anticipates something beyond the covenant with Abraham and the covenants with Moses/Israel.

IV. Examples of Jesus in the Old Testament Law

  • The Confirmation of the Covenant – The covenant is inaugurated with the building of an altar, the burning of a sacrifice, and the pouring of blood upon the redeemed covenant community of Israel (Exodus 24:1-8).  What was spread upon the doorposts at Passover in poured out upon the covenant community with the confirmation of this covenant and as redemptive history unfolds and the anticipation of a greater covenant grows so does the apparent need for a greater sacrifice.
  • The Patient and Gracious Covenant Lord – “The inescapable truth is that the grace of God continues to shine upon a people whose major claim to fame is the suicidal ability to break the covenant.”[7]  “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).
  • The Curse of the Law – The covenants were structured with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.  Galatians tells us that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13).

 


[1]Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), 192-93.
[2]J. A. Moyter, “Biblical Concept of Law,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter E. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 624.
[3]Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 47.
[4]Michael D. Williams, Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 164.
[5]Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 191.
[6]Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 165.
[7]Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,158.

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Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Characters

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled Jesus on Every Page; these are my notes from those classes.

I. The Failure of Moralistic Readings

A. Man-Centered

  • “It tends to put man and his needs in the foreground with God and His glory in the background.”[1]

B. Works-Based

  • “It focuses on what we should and shouldn’t do rather than on what God has done and is doing.”[2]

C. Context-Ignoring

  • It ignores the historical, cultural and redemptive contexts and leaps directly to the quandaries of modern man.  We saw this last week looking at Genesis 1-2.  Knowing that Moses wrote the Pentateuch sometime after the Exodus and sometime before Israel entered the Promised Land informs us of God’s intent in revealing these things to Moses and Israel.

D. Narrative-Fragmenting

  • It divides the sweeping narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation into disconnected narratives that lose their place in the unified whole.  This panoramic picture of God’s grace and glory is reduced to tiny snapshots about men.

E. Christ-Less

  • “When an Old Testament story is detached from the sweep of redemptive history, it often results in God-sermons but not Jesus-sermons.  Some Sermons, books, and Bible studies on Old Testament characters could easily have been taught by non-Christian religions.”[3]

II. Principles for Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament Characters

A. David Murray’s Fifteen Places to Find Jesus in the Old Testament Characters[4]

1.   “The Control of Jesus”

2.   “The Character of Jesus”

3.   “The Church of Jesus”

4.   “The Crimes Against Jesus”

5.   “The Contrast with Jesus”

6. “The Call for   Jesus”

7. “The Confession   to Jesus”

8.   “The Compassion of Jesus”

9. “Conversion to   Jesus”

10. “Confidence in   Jesus”

11. “The   Copy of Jesus”

12. “The   Command of Jesus”

13. “The   Cross of Jesus”

14. “The   Call of Jesus”

15. “The   Crowning of Jesus”

B. A Simpler Approach

  1. The Offices of Christ – All of the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings point us to Christ in both their successes and failures.  Unlike the prophets of old with all their failures Jesus comes as the perfect Word of God.  Unlike the priests’ whose sacrifices could never take away sin Jesus comes as our perfect High Priest and our spotless Lamb.  Unlike the failed kings of Israel Jesus comes as the Davidic King, the Lion of Judah, who makes His enemies His footstool.
  2. The Character of Christ – Every individual in the Old Testament in both obedience and rebellion points us toward Jesus.  Joseph’s grace towards his brothers points us forward to grace and forgiveness in Christ.  The murderous rage of Cain points us towards the one who does not seek to exalt Himself by taking life but humbles Himself and gives His life.  The totality of human activity in the Old Testament, and indeed in cosmic history, points us towards Christ.  When we see justice we see a shadow of Jesus, who is perfectly just, when we see injustice we yearn for the perfect justice of Jesus.
  3. The Works of Christ – The work of Christ in the New Testament is foreshadowed by the works of Old Testament individuals.  We see this in everything from intercession and forgiveness to suffering and judgment.

III. Encouragement Along the Way

A. Who are We Looking for Anyway?

  • “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’” (Genesis 3:14-15).

B. We are Not the Only Ones Looking

  • “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands’” (Genesis 5:28-29).

IV. Examples of Jesus in Old Testament Characters

  1. Adam – Adam was a prophet, priest, and king.  This points us to the fulfillment of these offices in Jesus.  With the fall of man Adams’ failure as a prophet, to speak truth to Eve and the Serpent, points us to Jesus the true word of God.  His failure as a priest removed him from God’s presence and this points us towards Jesus, in whom we have access to God.  His failure as a king who subdues creation has brought the entire creation into conflict with man and Jesus comes speaking calm to the raging seas and healing the afflicted.
  2. Noah – Just as Noah finds shelter from the coming wrath in the ark so we find that we are to find shelter from the coming wrath in Jesus.
  3. Moses – Just as Moses speaks the word of God and his face shines with the glory of the Lord so too does Jesus radiate the father’s glory.
  4. Pharaoh – As Pharaoh holds the people of God in bondage we should yearn for Jesus who sets us free from bondage and whose yoke is easy and burden is light.
  5. Abraham – As Abraham intercedes for Sodom, and specifically Lot, we should be reminded of Jesus our intercessor.  Later in the Old Testament Eli asks his rebellious sons “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him” (I Samuel 2:25a)?
  6. Isaac – There are so much here that should point us to Christ but Hebrews 11 notes that this is a picture of the resurrection.  Abraham receives his son back from the dead because of a substitute.
  7. David – David, as the Lord’s anointed, does what the people of God cannot do for themselves; he vanquishes the enemy of the people of God and secures their freedom just as Jesus triumphs over Satan and death.
  8. Boaz – As a kinsman-redeemer Boaz redeems and restores Ruth this theme runs throughout the Old Testament and points us towards redemption in Christ.
  9. Hosea – Hosea redeems his faithless wife; he buys back what is rightfully his.  This is a picture of God’s faithfulness towards faithless Israel and ultimately a picture of Jesus who offers Himself to purchase the people of God.

[1]David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 55.
[1]Ibid., 56.
[1]Ibid., 56.
[1]Ibid., 54-72.

A Biblical Theology of Mission

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled The Church, the Gospel, and the Ends of the Earth; these are my notes from last Sunday’s class on a biblical theology of mission.

I. Introduction

Last week we looked at the goal of missions, namely the glory of God.  This week we are going to trace the theme of mission through Scripture as it builds from God’s promise of redemption in the garden to the nations basking in the glory of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  This task of tracing a theme as it develops through the narrative of Scripture is called biblical theology.

What is Biblical theology?

The easiest way to explain biblical theology is to show you how it works.  If we were to begin reading in Genesis we would immediately learn that God exists and He creates (1:1).  Then we would see that this pre-existent Creator-God exists as a Spirit (1:2), a Spirit who speaks and indeed He doesn’t just speak but by His word He speaks creation into being (1:3).  This speaking Creator-God is good and can subsequently declare that His creation conforms to His inherent goodness (1:4).  Later on we see that this God is relational (1:26ff).  Further into the story we learn that this relational Creator-God is gracious (3:9ff).  That is biblical theology.

A. Two Definitions of Biblical Theology

  • “Biblical theology is concerned with God’s saving acts and his word as these occur within the history of the people of God.  It follows the progress of revelation from the first word of God to man through to the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.”[1]
  • “Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive preredemptive Special Revelation given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon.”[2]

B. Five Key Aspects of Biblical Theology

  • First, biblical theology is concerned with the action undertaken by God to redeem rebellious humanity; in this sense it is synonymous with the phrase redemptive history.
  • Second, it deals with, and when codified takes the form of, process; “its principle of organizing the Biblical material is historical rather than logical.”[3]  Unlike systematic theology which organizes biblical material thematically and topically biblical theology is organized chronologically as it follows the narrative of Scripture.
  • Third, its content is the self-revelation of God, while its form may resemble that of a historical narrative its chief interest is God’s progressive revelation of Himself and His purpose over the course of history.  Just as you will learn the characteristics or attributes of a character over the course of a film or novel in the same way God’s actions in the story of Scripture demonstrate His characteristics.
  • Fourth, biblical theology deals with God’s word and so it is exegetical in nature; “its goal is the correct exegesis of the entire Bible so that each part of the whole is understood as it was originally intended to be.”[4]
  • Finally, its central focus is “the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.”[5]

What is mission?

Since we are looking at a biblical theology of mission we will not begin with a definition but will look at how this theme organically develops along the Bible’s storyline.  The storyline of Scripture can be understood within the framework of the following five points which each ask a critical question.

C. The Storyline of Scripture

  • Creation — How did we get here?
  • Fall — What went wrong?
  • Redemption — Can it be fixed?
  • Consummation — Where is it going?

II. Biblical Theology in Overview

A. Creation — How did we get here?

Last week we discussed that the goal of mission is the glory of God and so we begin in Genesis with the created world perfectly reflecting the glory of God, after all everything that God made was good.  In particular God created man as His image-bearer to both reflect and enjoy His glory as His representative and the mediator of His presence who would care for His creation.[6]

B. Fall — What went wrong?

But then something goes terribly wrong; man rebels.  Rather than reflect God’s glory man seeks to rival it.  Rather than represent God’s authority and rule man seeks to live by his own authority and to exercise his own rule.  Because of this the whole of creation is stricken with a curse.  This ground which once brought life will now bring hardship, pain, frustration, and death.  The harmony of God’s good creation is shattered and man is now at war with creation, with his fellow man, even with himself, and ultimately with God.  This perfect picture of God’s glory has become a cosmic revelation of His judgment and wrath.

C. Redemption — Can it be fixed?

1. Seeing Mission in the Garden – The Adamic Covenant

Man does not seek out God in repentance; he does not attempt to atone for his sins.  No, man hides from God in the garden.  This is still man’s tendency (Romans 3:9-18).  From this narrative it is clear that man is both unwilling and unable to turn to God in repentance on his own accord.  God must intervene and intervene He does.  “God comes into the Garden from without, seeks out Adam, and both judges and shares the redemptive promise with him . . . God was on a mission to Adam.  He had no other man to send, so he sent himself.”[7]   God is a missional God.  He seeks out rebellious man to redeem him (Genesis 3:9).  God promises and provides for redemption (Genesis 3:15).  By the shedding of blood God covers their shame (Genesis 3:21).  And it is God who provides a means by which rebellious humanity may enter into relationship with him (Genesis 4:1-5).

This is our first glimpse of mission in Scripture, this is the defining moment for everything that follows.  From the Genesis narrative it is clear that “Mission is not ours; mission is God’s.  Certainly the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in.  Or, as it has been nicely put, it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.”[8]

Earlier we defined biblical theology and now we must add one more aspect to our understanding of it.  Biblical theology is Missional theology as God’s self-revelation of Himself through the narrative of Scripture is missionary activity.  God is the ultimate missionary, He makes Himself known.

Is Old Testament Mission Centripetal or Centrifugal?

There is a lot of debate about the distinction between OT mission and NT mission.  It is argued that the OT presents mission as the nations coming to Israel, centripetal mission, while the NT presents mission as the church going to the nations, centrifugal missions.  This is both unhelpful and fails to grasp mission as presented primarily as an act of God and secondarily as a response of God’s people to His mission.  Furthermore mission is always both centripetal and centrifugal.  God sends Himself, His Son, His Spirit, and His church and simultaneously God calls His people to a nation, a land, a city, a temple, and ultimately to Jesus Christ.  The going out and the calling in are inseparable throughout the full biblical narrative of mission.

2. Seeing Mission in the Flood – The Noaic Covenant

As man multiplied and filled the earth, rather than imaging God and representing His rule, man was characterized by self-worship and rebellion.  Indeed “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  And in this context God seeks out Noah and redeems him from the wrath to come.  In God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:17-22; 8:20-22; 9:8-17) we see the scope of God’s mission.  Just as the curse touched the farthest regions of God’s creation so God’s mission reaches as far as that curse is to be found.  In the flood we see both God’s judgment upon the curse and foretaste of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

3. Seeing Mission in the Calling of Abraham – The Abrahamic Covenant

In what first appears to be a dramatic narrowing of God’s mission God calls Abram and establishes a covenant with him and his offspring (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-22; 18; and 22:1-18).  But this is not a narrowing of God’s mission.  God is not abandoning the nations for the sake of Israel.  He is not blessing Israel at the expense of the nations.  No, He has called and will bless Israel for the sake of the nations.  The cosmic scope of His mission remains as the means by which He accomplishes this mission narrows its focus upon the singular seed of the woman, the offspring of Abraham, and as we will see later the descendant of David in whom God’s mission finds its fulfillment.

4. Seeing Mission in the Exodus – The Mosaic Covenant

Through a series of events recorded in Genesis 37-Exodus 1 the mission seems to be lost and it appears that God’s people have been forgotten and enslaved.  But this too was all part of God’s mission to make Himself known (Genesis 15:13ff.).  God demonstrates His redemptive might to the nations as He rescues His people from pharaoh and brings them to His mountain.  God then establishes a covenant with his people (Exodus 19-24) and declares that they are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Beyond God’s mission it is clear that His people, “Israel definitely had a sense of mission, not in the sense of going somewhere but of being something.”[9]  God has both a mission and a people for this mission He is making Himself know through Israel.  As a holy nation they will demonstrate God’s character and as a kingdom of priests they will mediate His presence.

5. Seeing Mission in Judgment and Restoration – Deuteronomic Covenant

The failure and faithlessness of God’s people is nothing new.  From Noah and Abraham to the constant grumblings of Israel in the Exodus this is a theme that runs through Scripture.  So as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land God establishes another covenant with them in addition to the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1).  This covenant promises both blessing for obedience as well as curses for disobedience.  But God’s mission would not fail.  He will make Himself known among the nations in Israel’s victories, as His people dispossess their enemies, and in their failures as He disciplines His people, and ultimately He will make himself known as He restores them in their eventual repentance.  This covenant gives Missional understanding to everything that follows in the history of Israel.

6. Seeing Mission in the Monarchy – The Davidic Covenant

As His people struggle to live as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests God appoints a king to represent His rule, both to Israel and the nations.  Despite his many failures David “typified theocratic kingship”[10] and became the standard by which future kings were judged.  God establishes a covenant with David (II Samuel 7:8-16, 23:5; Psalm 89:34-37).  The covenant with David echoes many of the promises made to Abraham and so it becomes clear that the cosmic restoration pictured in the flood and the blessing of the nations promised to Abraham would come through the eternal kingship promised to David and his offspring.

7. Seeing Mission in the Prophetic Hope – The New Covenant

A Brief Outline of the Prophetic Hope:

  • Reconciliation with God – Throughout Scripture God promises that if His rebellious people would turn to Him in repentance then He will return to them as their God and will gather them as His people (II Chronicles 7:13-14; Jeremiah 30:8-22; 31:1; Ezekiel 34:30-31).
  • Return to the Promised Land – Furthermore, they are also promised a return to and the expansion of the promised land (Isaiah 54:1-3; Jeremiah 30:3; Ezekiel 34:11-16).
  • Reestablishment of Davidic Kingship – There is also an emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant with particular emphasis placed upon the rule of the Davidic King (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24).
  • Rebuilding of the Temple – Also included in the emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant is the promise that a new temple will be built within a New Jerusalem and that God’s glory will return and He will dwell among His people forever (Ezekiel 40-48).
  • The New Covenant – However, the most significant occurrence during this time is not the prophetic word concerning covenant renewal but the promise of a new and better covenant whereby the people will be indwelt by the law of the Lord and will dwell with Him in an eternal city (Jeremiah 31:31-40).

All of this is brought about by the mission of Christ.  Just as God seeks out rebellious Adam and Eve in the Garden so Jesus comes to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant, in Jesus we are reconciled to God; He is the Promised Land, the Davidic king, and the new temple.  Jesus fulfills the mission of God!

D. Consummation — Where is it going?

In Revelation 22:1-5 we will see the great end towards which all of God’s mission is working.  This passage points us to the fulfillment of all that we have studied.  Looking back to the fall of man and the cursing of creation we read in verse 3 that “No longer will there be anything accursed.”  Also in verse 3 we see that man’s relationship with God has been restored as “his servants will worship him.”  Looking back to God’s covenant with Abraham we see that indeed the nations are blessed as verse 2 tells us of the tree of life whose leaves are for “for the healing of the nations.”  Thinking of God’s covenant with David and the promise of an everlasting kingdom and throne we read of “throne of God and of the Lamb” in verse 1 and verse 5 closes with the promise that God with His people “will reign forever and ever.”

E. Application — What now?

Stating the profoundly important role of narrative Alasdair MacIntyre writes, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself apart?’”[11]  We stand between the giving of the New Covenant, in Christ, and the consummation of the covenants at His return.  This is not just the story of God’s mission this is also our story and subsequently our mission.

I left out a critical aspect of the New Covenant mission of God above.  The same God who seeks out man in the Garden, the same God who sends His Son, also sends His Spirit to indwell His church, and just as God sent His Son, in the power of the Spirit, God now sends His Spirit-empowered church out to call the nations to glorify God.  This mission is not new, indeed it is very old, as “what blossoms and flourishes in the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel to convert all persons to discipleship to Jesus Christ is anticipated in the Old Testament’s proclamation of the goodness and grace of God.”[12]  And like Israel we too are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).


[1]Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 32.
[2]Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948) preface.
[3]Ibid.
[4]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 35.
[5]Ibid., 32.
[6]Stanley J. Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei,” in Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 88.
[7]Francis M. DuBose, God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1983), 57.
[8]Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 62.
[9]Wright, The Mission of God, 504.
[10]Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from Creation to the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988), 222.
[11]Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 216.
[12]Patrick D. Miller Jr., “’Enthroned on the Praises of Israel’: The Praise of God in Old Testament Theology,” Interpretation 39 (1985): 8.

Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

This Sunday’s cover story, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, for The New York Times Magazine is nothing new. I wrote several years ago, in “When the Fertility Clinic Meets the Abortion Clinic: A Modern Paradox,” about a similar article in the Los Angeles Times. In fact the only thing that has changed in these four years are the numbers. The reasons and the response are the same things that have been around since the first abortion and if we were to go back further to the origins of infanticide. When reading these articles, or the responses to them, they are so predictable that they almost appear to be scripted. With that I hope to take a departure from the typical response and argue that the real issue here is not life, it is not choice, and it is not even murder. The real issue is sovereignty.

Let me explain what I mean. In her June article, “Yes, Abortion is Killing. But It’s the Lesser Evil,” Antonia Senior explains how having a child changed her perspective regarding abortion. After explaining the lack of a consensus regarding a scientific or philosophical definition of life she concludes,

What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure. My daughter was formed at conception, and all the barely understood alchemy that turned the happy accident of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg into my darling, personality-packed toddler took place at that moment. She is so unmistakably herself, her own person — forged in my womb, not by my mothering.

Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life

She then explains that such conclusions have resulted in a movement aimed at separating feminism from “fertility control.” However, she views this as entirely incompatible with the central aim of feminism exclaiming, “The single biggest factor in women’s liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology.” The freedom of women then depends upon one thing the unencumbered exercise of the will.

With a shocking candor she concludes,

As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.

For Antonia Senior, and I would argue for all of us, the principal issue is sovereignty, a woman’s ultimate right to impose her will upon herself and upon others.

Sovereignty occurs vertically in the form of worship, we could use other words but the concept remains the same. We either rejoice in the sovereignty of the God in whose image we are made or we deny it by worshipping any number of god’s made in our image. Horizontally human interaction exists upon a continuum of two extremes; escape and conflict. Both extremes end in death and both are false exercises of sovereignty. At the extreme end of escape is suicide where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over the self by taking one’s life. At the extreme end of conflict lies murder where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over another by taking another’s life.

The first two articles mentioned, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” and “The abortion debate brought home,” regarding reduction, which let’s be honest is a clever play on words to sanitize something far more grisly and sinister, bring another exercise of sovereignty into the question, namely in vitro fertilization and the creation of life. Imposing one’s will upon one’s own biology may require medical assistance and donated eggs which is where our current discussion often begins. With in vitro fertilization, when multiple embryos are transferred, there is always the possibility of multiple embryos implanting and when multiple babies are not wanted or the mother is unable to give birth to multiple children then one or more of them must be put to death. In 1988 Dr. Mark Evans penned guidelines for this procedure stating that “most reductions below twins violated ethical principles.” Things have changed over the past 23 years; the medical community has rethought its ethics and is now willing and able to reduce your pregnancy to one. “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” ends with a counterintuitive conclusion. After choosing to reduce their pregnancy to one child the author asks the women what would happen if they miscarried to which one of them replied, “I’ve come to realize there’s only so much we can control. There’s a point where you just have to let nature take its course.”

After all this talk of a woman’s complete control of her own fertility comes the tragic conclusion that “there’s only so much we can control.” Ultimately you cannot impose your will upon your biology because ultimately you are not sovereign. Your sovereignty is an illusion.

How are we to respond to this? Should we call our senator or state representative? Should we start building picket signs and begin protesting abortion clinics? No, we must respond with the Gospel, in word and deed. We must respond in the same way that God responds to humanity’s first act of false sovereignty in the garden, with grace and the promise that in Christ we will be liberated not unto self but from self and sin and set free to worship the one true Sovereign. Any other response is incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

Soteriology II – Doctrine of Salvation

On Sunday nights we are working through the church’s doctrinal statement; these are my notes from last Sunday. I hope you enjoy them.

Justification, Regeneration, Repentance, and Faith―

V. Of Justification

We believe that the great Gospel blessing which Christ secures to such as believe in Him is Justification; that Justification includes the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life on principles of righteousness; that it is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in the Redeemer’s blood; by virtue of which faith His perfect righteousness is freely imputed to us of God; that it brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God, and secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.

VII. Of Grace In Regeneration

We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life.

VIII. Of Repentance And Faith

We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King, and relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Savior.

Introduction

A Humbling Reminder ― I Corinthians 6:9-11

I think it is helpful to begin any discussion of salvation with the realization that we are in desperate need of it and that it is not something which we can carry out for ourselves; rather, salvation is something which has been carried out on our behalf, it is both divine in origin and accomplishment. God has, is, and will save us.

The Order of Salvation ― Beginning with the order of salvation helps us in several respects.

  • It results in praise.
  • It fosters humility.
  • It guards against error.

Next to each term is the Roman numeral to which it corresponds in our doctrinal statement. These topics are covered in both Community Training and in Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know which you read for community training.

Election (IX)

Gospel Call (VI)

Effectual Call (VI) ― Regeneration (VII)

Repentance and Faith (VIII) ― Justification (V) ― Adoption ― Sanctification (X) ― Perseverance (XI)

Glorification (XVIII)

I. Regeneration

A. Definition

Regenerating is the act of God by which the spiritually dead are brought to life, “thus restoring the person’s intellectual, volitional, moral, emotional, and relational capacities to know, love, and serve God.”[1] Within scripture this is often spoken of in terms of new life or new birth.

B. Explanation

  • First and foremost regeneration is a monergistic act (Ezekiel 36:26; John 1:13).
  • Second, regeneration is wholly an act of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10).
  • Third, regeneration is a result of the gospel (I Peter 1:23).
  • Fourth, regeneration is mysterious (John 3:8).
  • Fifth, regeneration is inextricably connected with our union with Christ (I Corinthians 15:23).
  • Sixth, regeneration results in faith, repentance, and obedience (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 2:10; I John 3:9, 5:1).

C. Regeneration and the Effectual Call

Regeneration and effectual calling are two sides of the same coin. One speaks to the divine call (John 6:44) and the other to the divine enablement to respond to that call (John 6:65). “Effective calling is thus God the father speaking powerfully to us, and regeneration is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit working powerfully in us.”[2]

II. Repentance and Faith

A. Preliminary Considerations

Repentance and faith are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin. Grudem explains that they are both related to the word “turning;” we turn from sin (repentance) and turn towards Christ (faith).[3] In such a sequence neither precedes the other; this is simultaneously a turning to and a turning from.

B. Repentance

1. Old Testament Terminology

  • nacham – “to become remorseful . . . to regret something”[4] (Job 42:5-6)
  • shub – “to turn around, repent” (II Coronicles 7:14)

2. New Testament Terminology

  • metamelomai – “to regret”[5] (Matthew 21:32)
  • metanoeo – “to change one’s mind or purpose, hence, to repent”[6] (Matthew 3:2)

At the most basic level repentance “involves a change in the outward life because such a change is a result of the change of inward opinions.”[7]

3. Definition

Repentance is therefore the abandonment of sin which results from godly sorrow over one’s sin.

Biblical repentance has intellectual, emotional and physical properties. It requires a radical change in both our way of thinking, feeling, and living.

4. Explanation

  • First, repentance is a voluntary act enabled by regeneration; therefore maintaining both divine sovereignty and human responsibility (See “Regeneration” above).
  • Second, repentance is necessary for salvation (Mark 1:14-15; Acts 3:18-20; see Romans 2:4-5 for a description of the unrepentant).
  • Third, while repentance marks the beginning of new life it must also continue throughout life (Matthew 6:12).
  • Fourth, repentance is a result of hearing the gospel.

C. Faith

1. Terminology

Within the New Testament there are two terms used to express the idea of faith; the verb, pisteuo, and the noun, pistis. They carry the basic meaning of faith, trust, confidence, or belief.

2. Definition

A biblical definition of faith has three aspects an action, a content, and an object. With this in mind I think it is best to define faith as a confidence (action) that Jesus Christ (object) has accomplished what He has promised in the gospel (content).

3. Explanation

  • First, faith is a voluntary act enabled by regeneration; therefore maintaining both divine sovereignty and human responsibility (See “Regeneration” above).
  • Second, faith is necessary for salvation (John 3:16).
  • Third, while faith marks the beginning of new life it must also continue throughout life (Galatians 2:20).
  • Fourth, faith is a result of hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 4:2).

III. Justification

A. Old Testament Terminology

  • sadaq (hiphil form) – “declare righteous, justify . . . vindicate the cause of . . . make righteous, turn to righteousness.”[8]

B. New Testament Terminology

  • dikaioo – “to declare, pronounce righteous.”[9]

C. Definition

“Justification is God’s action pronouncing sinners righteous in his sight. We have been forgiven and declared to have fulfilled all that God’s law requires of us.”[10]

D. Explanation

I want to take this definition and break it down into several smaller statements which we can clearly see in Romans 3:20-26.

  • First, justification is a declarative act of God (Romans 3:20).
  • Second, justification is possible because of Christ’s propitiatory work (Romans 3:22, 24, 25) not because of personal merit. Furthermore, this maintains God’s justice as the sentence for our rebellion has been carried out on Christ.
  • Third, in justification God imputes Christ righteousness to us (Romans 3:22).

II Corinthians 5:21 also illustrates the link between justification and imputation. Would someone please read that for us? How does this relate to Romans 3?

Colossians 2:13-14 illustrates another stunning fact about justification, would someone read that for us?

  • Fourth, in justification God cancels our record of debt and its sentence of condemnation (Colossians 2:13-14). We read that He has canceled the record of debt that opposed us as well as its legal demands. Debtors would usually write their own records of indebtedness. Here Paul uses the word χειρόγραφον which is a combination of two words “χειρ” meaning hand and “γραφή” meaning writing. So we have this handwritten record which actively opposes us. Paul also mentions the legal demands of this record. The word here is δόγμα, which is where we get the word dogmatic. A dogmatic position is one which you are unwilling to give up. The legal demands which Paul is describing are unwavering and fixed. God has canceled this debt and these demands. Ancient scribes would write upon paper made of papyrus or vellum and unlike modern ink, ancient ink did not absorb into the paper but rather sat on top of the paper. As paper was expensive, scribes would often wipe this ink off and reuse the paper. That is what the word “canceling” means God has literally wiped our slate clean.

Application

[1]Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 293.

[2]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 700.

[3]Ibid., 709.

[4]Ludwig Koehler and Walters Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. and trans. Johann Jakob Stamm, Benedikt Hartmann, Ze’Ev Ben-Hayyim, Eduard Yechezkel Kutscher, Philippe Reymond, and M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2001), s.v. “נחם.”

[5]Ibid., s.v. “שׁוב.”

[6]G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: T & T Clark, 1999), s.v. “μεταμέλομαι.”

[7]Ibid., s.v. “μετανοέω.”

[8]James P. Boice, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1887), 383.

[9]Koehler and Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, s.v. “צָדֵק.”

[10]Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. “δικαιόω.”

[11]Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 968.