Getting Redemption Right and Understanding the Logic of Christ’s Cross

black cross on top of mountain

Recently, I have been watching, reading, and discussing the ways that the cross of Christ has being wrongly preached, taught, and explained in churches today. In particular the penal substitutionary nature of the cross, where Christ pays the penalty for sinners who have broken God’s law and deserve his righteous and eternal condemnation, has been redefined by scholars like N.T. Wright, popular teachers like Tim Mackie (and The Bible Project), and misrepresented by pastors who have adopted their teaching and succumbed to the God-is-love-and-not-wrath narrative. And this does not even include the opponents of Christianity (e.g., Tony Jones, Bart Campolo, Richard Rorty, and others in the following video) who have simply denied the historic meaning of the cross of Christ.

Often, false teaching about the cross affirms truths that Scripture teaches. For instance, the cross does defeat the powers and principalities (Col. 2:13–15); it does display the love of God (John 3:16); it does liberate mankind from the idols and ideas of this world (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Sadly, the error comes not in what is affirmed, but what is denied—namely, that the cross propitiates the wrath of God. At its heart, Scripture teaches that a holy God cannot turn a blind eye to human sin. Therefore, mankind stands condemned in Adam and ready to receive God’s righteous judgment. This is bad news. But it is biblical and it is the ground from which the good news of Christ’s death must spring.

In the Bible, we discover that God’s gospel declares that he has satisfied his own holy standards by substituting his own Son in the place of the people who he has chosen to redeem. Sadly, many teachers deny or distort this penal substitutionary view of the cross. Some caricature God’s wrath as divine child abuse poured out on Jesus, as if Jesus is not God himself; others make the problem of humanity some form of human, political, or demonic evil; and others simply deny the holiness of God, declaring that God has absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, including letting sinners go free—no wrath needed. Space does not permit a full response here to these errant views (but see this three-part response).

Instead, I want to offer a biblical definition of redemption and Christ as the redeemer.  Again, the problem with any view that denies Christ’s penal substitution stems from a dismissal or distorted view of Scripture. Yet, when we take Scripture on its own terms, we find a holy God who has made a single way of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Explaining that redemption, Leon Morris, in The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, has helpful spelled out the nature of humanity’s need and the effect of Christ’s death. Writing about Christ the Redeemer, he says Continue reading

Live Not By Feelings: Three Ways to Love and Live the Moral Life (1 Peter 1:13–19)

image001To feel good or to be good. That is the question. And in Sunday’s sermon, I considered the difference between the moral life that God commands (and grants by the power of his grace) and the therapeutic life that our world gives us (with no lasting grace).

As countless cultural commentators have observed, there has been in our culture “the triumph of the therapeutic” (see Philip Rieff’s book by that title). And unfortunately, this way of thinking and living has shaped the church for the last two generations, a point David Wells makes in his book Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. More recently, Carl Trueman has chronicled how this addiction self-oriented, inner-directed, immanent (not transcendent), feelings-obsessed way of living has consumed our world. And while understanding its origins takes time, seeing its effects does not. It’s everywhere.

And in Sunday’s sermon, I showed how 1 Peter 1:13–19 calls the followers of Christ to live by a different moral calculus and to throw off the idle and idolatrous ways of our fathers. In our case, that means rejecting a way of life controlled by our feelings.

Bought by the blood of Christ, Christians are to be holy as their Heavenly Father is holy. And this means rejecting a therapeutic worldview and the gospel of grievance that comes with it. And in its place we must learn afresh how to walk as children of God, clothed in his holiness, set apart for his glory, and satisfied with grace.

That’s what Sunday’s sermon sought argue from Peter’s first letter. You can watch that message here, or listen to it here. On these issues, a few other resources may be helpful. You can find them below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Whole Truth: Why One-Sided Truths Are the Most Effective Way to Introduce Error

Since its inception, the church has been a community created by truth (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5) and engaged with confronting error. Both proactively and reactively, the church and its heralds of Scripture have been called to preach the truth of God’s Word and reject falsehood (see e.g., Titus 1:9). Yet, in every generation this calling has been compromised through half truths masquerading as whole truths which become untruths, as the late J. I. Packer once put it.

For this reason, Christians, and especially pastors, must be vigilant to defend the truth from half truths. On this point, A.A. Hodge insisted that the challenge of this duty stemmed from the many-sided nature of truth. Because we are one-sided people, who are both limited in our thinking, twisted in our desires, and easily deceived by our Enemy, we struggle to handle the many-sided nature of truth. Thus, we fall into error. 

Though he wrote nearly 150 years ago, his observation is worth considering, with the added reflection on ways that one-sided truths lead us into error. Here are his words, which come from the opening pages of his book, The Atonement. Below I will offer four ways that one-sided truths can derail us and lead us into temptation and error.

The human mind was formed for truth, and so constituted that only truth can exert permanent influence upon it. But the truth revealed in the Scriptures is so many-sided in its aspects, and so vast in its relations, and our habits of thought, because of sin, are so one-sided and narrow, that as a general fact, the mind of any Church in any single age fails to take in practically and sharply more than one side of a truth at a time, while other aspects and relations are either denied or neglected. A habit of unduly exalting any subordinate view of the truth at the expense of that which is more important, or of overlooking, on the other hand, some secondary aspect of it altogether, is certain after a time to lead to a reactionary tendency, in which that which has been too much exalted shall be brought low, and that which has been abased shall be exalted. This principle is abundantly illustrated throughout the entire history of theological speculation as in the ever-repeated oscillations between extremes of Sabellianism and Tritheism as to the Trinity, of Eutychianism [Jesus was fully divine, but not fully human] and Nestorianism [Jesus was two persons (one divine, one human) not one person with two natures] to the Person of Christ, and in the history of speculations on the doctrine of Redemption.

Every prominent heresy as to the nature of the Atonement, as the reader will find carefully acknowledged and defined in the following work, embraces and emphasizes on its positive side an important truth. The power, and hence the danger, of the heresy resides in that fact. But on the other hand, it is a heresy, and hence an evil to be resisted unto death, because it either puts a subordinate principle into the place of that which is central and fundamental, or because it puts one side of the truth for the whole, denying or ignoring all besides the fractional truth presented. It is plainly the policy as well as the duty of the defenders of the whole truth, not only to acknowledge the truth held on the side of their opponents, but to vindicate the rights of the perfect system as a whole, by demonstrating the true position and relation of the partial truth admitted in the larger system of truth denied. By these means we double the defences of orthodoxy, by bringing into contribution all that is true, and therefore all that is of force, in the apologies of error. (A. A Hodge, The Atonement, 17–18).

Acknowledging Hodge’s warning, what can we do to guard against one-sided (half-)truths? The singular answer is to continue to press into the truth of God and the whole counsel of God’s Word. At the same time, we should recognize common paths to error. And that is what I want to offer here—namely, four ways we might be led to affirm one-side of the truth without holding fast to the other sides of truth. As a result, we misshape the truth by ignoring or denying other aspects of truth, which makes the truth we hold persuasive but also pernicious. Only truth in full flower is, what Francis Schaeffer called, true truth. And true truth is what we must always pursue. To that end let us beware of the following habits of thought. Continue reading

On Reading Leviticus: Four Reading Strategies for This Glorious Book

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

With a new month (March) comes a new book in the Via Emmaus Reading Plan. This year I am reading Track 1 and listening to Track 3. And for those who are reading along this plan, or for those who are interested in reading Leviticus—“The Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)Ever Read”—I offer this reading strategy with resources.

This year, we have read Genesis and Exodus, and now we come to Leviticus, which is arguably the centerpiece of the whole Pentateuch. As I have taught in this Bible Study, borrowing from the work of Michael Morales (Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?) who cites many others, the book of Leviticus is the literary center and high point of the Pentateuch. Thematically, we might capture it this way:

Genesis begins in Eden, the Garden of God and ends in Egypt, a place of exile and death;

Exodus moves from Egypt through the wilderness to Sinai;

Leviticus is entirely written at Sinai;

Numbers moves from Sinai through the wilderness to the Promised Land (i.e., Israel sits poised to enter the land at the end of the book);

Deuteronomy prepares the people to move from exile in the wilderness into the Garden of God, the land of Canaan.

From this locational/thematic chiasm (and there are other literary clues that indicate an intentional shaping of the Pentateuch), we see that Leviticus is not a book we must “get through.” In the Pentateuch, it is the book we must “get to.”

We need Leviticus, so that we might learn what it takes to dwell near to God. This month, as we read Leviticus, we need to consider how this book gives us more than a detailed list of instructions for the priests of Israel. It invites us to approach a holy God and to do so through the finished work of Christ—the One who fulfills all the requirements of the Levitical system of sacrifice. In what follows I will offer a handful of resources to help you read this book, starting with four reading strategies for Leviticus. Continue reading

Let My People Gather: What We Can Learn from an Ancient Church-State Debate

statues of ramses in abu simbel temple

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the Risen King, ‘Let my people gather, that they may hear my Word, sing my praise, and remember my sacrifice.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is this Lord, that I should obey his voice and let you gather? I do not know this king, and moreover, I will not let your people gather.” 3 Then they said, “The God who raised the dead has told us, ‘You are to gather every Lord’s Day to proclaim the resurrection and to worship me, lest I bring pestilence or sword on you.’” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you risk the lives of your people and your neighbors? Get back to your homes and love your neighbors.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the cases of COVID are now many, and you want to risk the spread of more diseases!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded his health officials and tax officers, 7“You shall no longer let these people open their businesses, as in the past, or receive their stimulus checks. Instead, let them go and provide for themselves. 8Moreover, their annual taxes shall by no means be reduced, for they are selfish. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go worship our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
Exodus 5:1–9 (A Covid-19 Paraphrase)

Few doctrines are more important for churches today than understanding the relationship between church and state and the proper authority of each. In our church, we have taught from the New Testament what obeying the governor means and doesn’t mean, what love of neighbor entails, and how to walk in freely in society without binding the conscience of another. Yet, as I have been reminded by many other pastors recently (e.g., here, here), we also need to look at the Old Testament to find examples of saints standing up for their faith.

As Paul reminds us on multiple occasions (Rom. 4:25; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1–11; 2 Tim. 3:16), the Old Testament is not just for Israel. It was written for new covenant believers, and thus we should consider how men like Moses, David, Elijah and others stood for truth against tyrants like Pharaoh, Saul, and Jezebel—yes, that wicked queen who has been in the news recently.

We need to learn from the faith of the saints, not only because Hebrews 11 tells us too, but because we need courageous models to imitate. As our world continues to press against the church, we need to look beyond the evangelical leaders who tell us to trust that the intentions of government are good, and obey lest we ruin our witness. Instead, we need to look to biblical leaders, who in obedience to God, refused to make decisions based upon some social merit system with the government. Countless Old Testament saints knowingly invited the wrath of the king. Yet, instead of ruining their witness, this became the very means by which God’s power become evident to the redeemed and the unrighteous alike.

Today, we need many lessons in this kind of unqualified obedience to God. And one place where we find great help in this type of obedience is Exodus 5:1–9 and Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel gather at Sinai. Above I have offered a paraphrase of that passage. Though the whole of the chapter, as well as Exodus 6–7, provides wisdom for walking in our world today. For sake of space, we fill focus on these verses and how they apply to our current world. From them, I will list six ways that the confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses, or really between Pharaoh and Yahweh, instructs us today and why churches cannot simply wait upon the government to reopen the church. We must obey God and gather at our Sinai, the Mountain called Zion (Heb. 12:22–24).

I know that not all will agree with this application, but that’s why I’m writing. I am prayerful that this appeal to Scripture will provide one more biblical argument for gathering, even as governing authorities say not to and many Christian leaders are saying, “Wait. Be Patient. Don’t lose your testimony.” Yet, as our brother in Canada, James Coates, sits in jail for gathering God’s people to worship God, we cannot be silent and pretend that the governing authorities have the best interest of the church in mind. Rather, with eyes fixed on Scripture, it is imperative for Christians to understand what is going on and what has always been going on (John 15:18–25). With this pursuit of applied wisdom in ind, Exodus 5:1–9 helps us to better see the world around us today and how to gather when pressures and politics outside the church hinder the assembly of God’s people.

May the Lord give us the boldness of Moses and Aaron to obey God and stand before our governing authorities and say: Let my people gather![1] Continue reading

The Story of God’s Glory: A Wide Angle View of Salvation from 1 Peter 1:10–12

glory to god book

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

In his commentary on 1 Peter, the late biblical theologian, Edmund Clowney, observes that “Glory is the goal of the Old Testament promises” (56). Indeed, glory is the goal of creation, salvation, and really everything God does in his world. And in 1 Peter 1:10–12, the apostle of Jesus widens his view of salvation to include all the Spirit of Christ revealed to the Old Testament prophets about the coming messiah, from his sufferings and his subsequent glories to the gospel of grace that came from Christ to the elect exiles in Asia Minor.

For us, who read 1 Peter, it is worth our time to ponder all that God has done in redemptive history also. Such a meditation solidifies the foundation on which we stand in Christ and secures us further in times of trial. Indeed, salvation, which comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ, depends upon understanding the Christ of Scripture and not the christ of our sentimental imaginings. With that in mind, we should constantly be rehearsing the high points of the biblical storyline to better know who Christ is and what he did. Continue reading

The Beginning of the Priesthood: Revisiting Levi in Genesis 34

41gzmdxgXRL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_If anyone has spent anytime reading this blog, they know that I have written a fair bit about the priesthood. In January of next year, Lord willing, I will even have a book coming out on the topic. One note that I didn’t put in that manuscript, however, begins with the choice of Levi and his backstory in Genesis 34. As I have been reading Exodus this month I was reminded of this note and the textual connection between Moses and Aaron in that book with the historical figure of Levi. Here’s the note. Let me know what you think.

The Sword of Levi and Redemption of God

To understand the Levitical priesthood, we need to know Levi. In Genesis 28 we find his birth, but Genesis 34 records the defining moment of his life—the violent execution of Shechem. If you do not remember the story, go read the deceptive and deadly tale, where Dinah the daughter of Jacob is violated by Shechem a foreign prince. In response, Simeon and Levi struck down Shechem and the men of Hamor when they were “sore” from circumcision (v. 25). Feigning peace, these two brothers used their swords to avenge their sister’s defilement. Continue reading

Seeing Leviticus with New Eyes: Understanding the Pollution of Sin and the Need for Sacrifice

steve-sharp-DmM6NQcavuI-unsplashOn Tuesday’s nights I teach a class on Leviticus, which I have affectionately entitled, “Leviticus: The Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)ever Read). If you are interested in learning a thing or two about this vitally important book and how it teaches us about Christ, the gospel, and the logic of God’s atonement, you can find the lessons here

This week, as we considered the Reparation Offering—which if you will listen has some application for considering the modern question of reparations—I began with a discussion on the difference between this offering and the Purification Offering. On that point, I found the following explanation of sin as pollution helpful. In his commentary on Leviticus, Gordon Wenham observes the way Moderns fail to understand the cultic idea of sin and pollution. This is one of many reasons why we struggle to understand Leviticus. But once we understand how Israel’s sin defiled the tabernacle and its various sections (i.e., the altar, the holy place, and the holy of holies), we begin to understand what the sacrifices did. This understanding of the sacrificial system, in turn, helps understand what Christ did in his atoning sacrifice, as well as what it means that Jesus is our propitiation.

Again, this is why we are looking at Leviticus. And to help us understand that book and the whole concept of sacrificial worship and atonement for our sin, I share these reflections from Gordon Wenham. Continue reading

From Initial Joy to Joy Everlasting:How Elect Exiles Suffer, Believe, Love, and Endure (1 Peter 1:6–9)

image001Are we going to make it? How are we going to make it? What will it take to make it? And what is ‘it,’ anyways?

If you were an elect exile living in Asia Minor during the first few decades of the church, you might ask these questions? Or, if you were a Protestant living in England during the reign of Bloody Mary, you might ask them too? Today, if you are a Christian living in China, or if you are Christian living anywhere that the cultural elites are pressing against biblical truth, or if you are confronted with an unknown, but serious, medical diagnosis, you might be asking this kind of question: How are we going to keep the faith and abide in joy, when the trials come?

Fortunately, Scripture is not silent on this issue. And in 1 Peter 1:6–9 we find a number of truths related to salvation, joy, faith, trials, and perseverance. Writing to a people whose faith was being tested and lives being threatened, Peter teaches us how we can have abiding joy in our salvation and hope of eternal glory. In Sunday’s sermon, we considered these truths, and you can listen to the sermon here. You can also watch the sermon or read a few related resources. 

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

True Religion Consists in Holy Affections: Jonathan Edwards’ Reflections on 1 Peter 1:8

peter-lewis-D1kher2Zx2U-unsplashTrue religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.
— Jonathan Edwards —

In his classic treatise on nature of the Christian experience, Jonathan Edwards begins Religious Affections with a brief and fruitful examination of 1 Peter 1:8. As this verse stands in the middle of this Sunday’s sermon, I share the opening pages from the abridged and updated version.  As many have experienced, Edwards writing is challenging, but his vision of God is glorious. Thus, it is always worth wrestling with words. Here, however, we find in language more accessible to modern readers an explanation of the way trials purify believers and enlarge our love for Christ and our joy in Christ. The section is not long and I share it as an introduction to Edwards, Religious Affections, and some of the themes we will see on Sunday.

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him,
you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
— 1 Peter 1:8 —

With these words the apostle demonstrates the state of mind of the Christians to whom he wrote. In the two preceding verses, he speaks of their trials: *the trial of their faith*, their *being in heaviness through manifold temptations*. These trials benefit true faith in three ways.

First, above all else, trials like this have a tendency to distinguish between true faith and false, causing the difference between them to be evident. That is why in the verse immediately preceding the text, and in innumerable other places, they are called trials because they try the faith of people who profess to be Christians, just as apparent gold is tried in the fire to see whether it is true gold or not. When faith is tried this way and proved to be true, it is “found unto praise and honour and glory” (1 Pet. 1:7). Continue reading