Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The danger of obedience

"Do not be fooled by people who say to you, 'You do not have to keep the law perfectly in order to be saved. You just have to be sincere. It is Jesus plus your own sincere obedience that will save you.' As attractive as those words might sound, do not accept them. They are a mask for a false gospel.

Second, remember the basic difference between the law and the gospel. It is not that the law requires perfect obedience, and the gospel just requires sincere obedience. Rather, the difference is this: the law requires doing, and the gospel requires not doing. The gospel requires believing for life and salvation. The 'terms of the deal' are totally different. They are not just different in degree: 'The law requires 100% obedience for your salvation whereas the gospel requires only 51% obedience for your salvation.' No! The terms are different in their very nature! The law requires 100% doing. The gospel requires 100% not doing. The gospel requires believing!"

- Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 82

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gifts that hurt and heal

"In Amos 4 God speaks of a gift he gave to his people: 'empty stomachs' (v. 6). He 'withheld rain' so that 'people staggered from town to town for water' (vv. 7-8). He struck their crops with mildew (v. 9). These might seem strange gifts! But God gives them so that His people might repent. The gifts are terrible things, but idolatry and its consequences are worse. God always seeks the best for His people, and that best is Himself. Famine and thirst are acts of divine love when their aim is to bring us back to God."

- Tim Chester, You Can Change, pp. 105-106

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What's really important this fall

Like most cities around our nation, Minot is slowly becoming blanketed with campaign posters for every office from US Senate to county sheriff. The next month and a half will only be more of the same. It is a privilege in our nation to be able to have a say in who leads us politically, so I support politics and we should support the candidates who demonstrate the greatest character qualities for service.
At the same time, politics is rarely as important as we think. It is of immediate but not ultimate importance. Isaiah 40 reminds of that.
Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales....All the nations are as nothing before [God], they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. (vv. 15 & 17)
This morning the news was all abuzz about a conflict between China and Japan over who controls the fishing waters which separate them. According to Isaiah, they will soon be forgotten. How important is it that we as America retain our economic and military supremacy in the world? According to Isaiah, our 300 million people and two hundred plus year history and rise to dominance is 'less than nothing.' We're not as important as we think - nor are any of the political campaigns so strongly under way.
What is truly important? Isaiah continues,
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent...who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness....The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. (vv. 22-23, 28)
Even better, such a God is not just great, to us His people He is gracious. Listen to how Isaiah begins the chapter:
Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity (sin) is pardoned.... (vv. 1-2)
Our world is full of news, and some of it is important, but only the good news of God's greatness and grace to us in Jesus is ultimate. Let's put our greatest hope in Him this fall, the one 'Politician' who rules perfectly.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thinking about sanctification

Feeling hopeless about your struggle with a particular sin? Among other things, I would strongly recommend Tim Chester's book You Can Change which gets to the heart of sanctification by deepening our affections for the grace of Christ poured out to us through the Cross. Here is a quote which I recently found helpful:

"I used to think sanctification was a bit like pushing a boulder up a hill. It was hard, slow work, and if you lost concentration you might find yourself back at the bottom. But it's more like a boulder rolling down hill. There's something inevitable about it, because it's God's work, and God always succeeds. The sad thing is that often I try to push the boulder back up the hill. I say in effect, 'Don't change me yet - I like doing that sin.'" (p. 55)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thinking Christianly about book burning

Last week a Jewish friend of mine called me up to ask my opinion of Terry Jones, the Florida man planning on holding a Koran burning on September 11th. He stated that if any Jew promised to perpetrate such an outrageous expression counter to free speech - especially religious free speech - Jews from around the world would descend upon him to silence and marginalize him for the sake of all Jews (who are against book burning of any kind).

I told my friend that I believed Terry Jones would not receive the same response from global Christians for a number of reasons. First, unfortunately, many professing believers agree with him that such displays are the means to stamp out Islam. Second, unfortunately, the Christian world has become so large and so fragmented that any semblance of unity in response to someone like Terry Jones is very unlikely. At the same time, I expressed my sorrow to my friend that Christians - if Terry Jones truly is one - would stage such a display of thoughtless militance.

Professor Carl Trueman gives a level-headed response when he writes:

"Has book burning ever done anything other than make the object of the fire more interesting and sought after, and make the perpetrators look like mindless reactionary vandals? The Reformation is a great example of this: the Catholics burned Luther's books and, hey presto!, they became bestsellers, and the Reformers had, at least for a while, the public sympathy that comes with being victims. That's censorship for you. The same kind of thing happened in the sixties with the Rolling Stones: ban them from the airwaves and suddenly they are top of the charts. Book burning is entirely counterproductive because it only ever achieves the opposite of that which it intends. Luther understood this -- when Prierias published his criticisms of Luther in 1518, Luther did not burn the book; he republished it with a new, witty preface and a refutation. He understood the subtleties of polemic in a way that left his opponents playing catch-up.

This Koran burning is childish; it will at best only draw attention to the book and fuel curiosity; at worst, it could jeopardise young people serving their country. Christians would be better served spending the time praying for the conversion of their Muslim neighbours and reaching out to them with love and with God's true word, rather than with a box of matches and acts of counterproductive immaturity."

It is hard to square Koran burning with the way of the Cross. It reminds one more of Nazi tactics to suppress German minorities than Christian mission to win the world for Christ. Fighting for the truth this side of the Cross must take constructive, not destructive, paths.