Why Divine Sovereignty Secures Human Responsibility: A Theological Reading of Exodus

clayIt is often argued that God’s absolute sovereignty disables or demotivates human responsibility. But I contend it is just the opposite: a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty secures and strengthens human responsibility. In fact, the more we see how God’s sovereign actions work in human history, the more reason we have to trust God and move out in faith.

Much confusion exists between fatalism and biblical predestination. In the former, the world is mechanistic and impersonal, God will do what he is going to do, end of story; in the latter, God in his love is at work to bring all things together for his glory and his people’s good. To be sure, God is going to do what he wants (see Psalm 115:3; 135:6), but this is good news, not bad.

When understood according to God’s Word, God’s meticulous and exhaustive sovereignty is not a reason for despair or distrust. Rather, as we will see from Exodus, God’s predestined and pre-communicated control of events is the very foundation needed to walk in humble obedience to God and his commands.

Promise and Fulfillment in Exodus Evidences the Sovereignty of God

All of Scripture follows the pattern of promise and fulfillment. Since the Fall, God has made one promise after another. He has bound these promises in covenants. And he has bound himself to fulfilling his covenanted word (see Hebrews 6:13–20). We see this is large ways, as the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15 directs all of redemptive history until all the subsequent promises of redemptive history are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). And we see this in smaller ways, like God’s promise to Sarai that this time next year she will have a son (see Genesis 18). From Luke’s perspective, all that was ever promised by God has been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 13:32–33). Hence, human faithfulness is undergirded by God’s faithfulness, which is to say human responsibility stands upon the sure, sovereign word of God.

In Exodus, a book that introduces the way God brings salvation to his people,  we can see how God’s promises are fulfilled, and how his sovereignty is more than helpful for human responsibility—it is necessary. More than five times, we find in Exodus Moses making the connection that what God said he would do, he has done. And thus, his people are meant to find confidence in Yahweh because of this, which in turn leads to greater trust and obedience. Let me mention each promise-fulfillment in Exodus, draw a couple points of application along the way, and show why God’s absolute sovereignty is good news for our faithful obedience to him. Continue reading

Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (pt. 1): The Church’s Three Foundational Offices

 

churchThe apostleship was the Divine expedient to meet the emergencies of the Church at its first establishment and outset in the world, and not the method appointed for its ordinary administration; and the peculiarities distinctive of the office, to which I have now referred, could not, from their very nature, be repeated in the case of their successors, or be transmitted as a permanent feature in the Christian Church.
— James Bannerman, The Church of Christ 223 —

In his discussion of the Church and its founding, James Bannerman notes the way in which Apostles played a peculiar (and unrepeatable) role. In his second volume ofThe Church of Christ, he shows from the corpus of the New Testament how we should understand these “pillars,” whom God used to found the church (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20).

In what follows, I’ll trace his argument to help us better understand the uniqueness of these men. My hope is that by understanding their place in God’s new covenant temple, we will better understand our need for their message and the discontinuity of signs, wonders, and mighty works which accompanied their ministry. I believe local churches have risen and fell with commitment to the apostles’ gospel, not the continuation of their miraculous gifts. But in our charismatic age, this distinction is often missed.

We need to recover an understanding of God’s designs for the early church, and how though dead, the words of the Apostles still speak. In the next post, I will consider the Prophets and Evangelists—two offices that complement the Apostles. But for today, we will look at the unique role of the Apostles. Continue reading

Holy Spirit Power: The Gift, the Giver, the Goal, and the Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1–11)

sermon photo

Holy Spirit Power: The Gift, the Giver, the Goal, and the Gifts (sermon audio)

Despite their obvious flaws, Paul loved the church at Corinth. And in his section on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14, he aims to help his spiritual children come to a true understanding of the Holy Spirit and the purpose of the spiritual gifts.

Important for us standing twenty centuries removed is the way he begins with the Holy Spirit as the greatest gift in 12:1–3, followed by an understanding of the triune God in vv. 4–6. When questions about spiritual gifts come up, we must begin here: the greatest gift is the Holy Spirit himself. He is the one by whom we might know the triune God.

Only after nailing down this truth can we move to understand the purpose and particulars of the spiritual gifts. Therefore, as I preached on this passage, this is where I focused—on the Gift and the Giver. We also considered the purpose or goal of the spiritual gifts and how these gifts functioned to promote the gospel in the early days of the church.

Next week we’ll focus more on the particular used of the sign gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, but for now you can listen to yesterdays sermon on Holy Spirit Power. Sermon notes are also available. Discussion questions and resources for further study are listed below. Continue reading

‘Power’ in Paul’s Letters: How Apostolic Miracles Magnify the Gospel Message

powerWhat does Paul think of power? How does he define it? When he speaks of “the working of miracles” (1 Corinthians 12:10), does he have modern charismatic signs in mind or something else? When Paul speaks of power, what is he talking about?

These are just a few questions we need to ask when we consider the word dunamis in Paul’s letters. And fortunatley, it is not too difficult to find what Paul thinks about this word, for he uses it often. However, if we come with preconceived ideas about “power evangelism” or “charismatic gifts” we might be less able to see what he originally meant. So lets consider what he says.

Power in Romans: The Gospel Defines Paul’s Understanding of Power

In Romans Paul begins with the gospel. Romans 1:1–7 defines Paul’s apostleship in terms of the gospel and Romans 1–-11 give us the fullest explanation of the gospel in Scripture. First, in Romans 1:4 Paul speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit to raise Christ from the dead, a reality that will shape Paul’s understanding of the gospel (and its effects) through all his letters. Then second, he defines the gospel as a matter of power in Romans 1:16–17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For Paul the gospel is the way in which God’s power brings salvation to sinners. The power of God raises the dead to life, beginning with Christ, and does the unthinkable: it declares the guilty “innocent” and the dead “alive.” Because righteousness and life are related in Paul’s thinking (see e.g., Romans 5:18–19), it is not surprising that justification requires the very power that raised Jesus from the dead. Continue reading

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

cropped-biblevizarc7mediumorig.jpg[This morning I teach the men of our church about three horizons in biblical interpretation. Here are the notes. What follows is a portion of content.]

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

In Preaching and Biblical Theology, Edmund Clowney identified three horizons that the faithful interpreter must engage three horizons to rightly understand biblical truth. These three horizons relate to the biblical text, the biblical covenants (or epochs), and the biblical Christ (i.e., the canonical testimony about God in Christ).

Expounding on these three horizons, Richard Lints has written in his illuminating book, The Fabric of Theology,

The biblical text has three interpretive horizons: the immediate context of the book (or passage), the context of the period of revelation in which the book (or passage) falls, and the context of the entirety of revelation.

It is signally important that we take each horizon seriously if we want to understand the biblical material properly. While no horizon takes precedence over the others, each must nonetheless be regulated by the other two. The meaning of any given passage will depend to a great extent on its place in its own particular epoch and its place in the entirety of redemptive revelation. The theological interpreter of Scripture must allow the three horizons to dialogue with one another continually, helping to explain and clarify the meaning of the others.

It is when we keep all three horizons in dialogue that Scripture begins to inform us about what questions it considers important and the framework necessary to find answers to those questions.[1]

In other words, only by attending to the three horizons can we understand how to read Scripture on its own terms. Likewise, because our goal is to know God, not just Moses or Matthew, it is imperative we read theo-logically, i.e., seeking to know the word (Logos) of God (Theos).

Knowing God is our goal and it requires careful attention to grammar, history, and the covenantal canon. Only as we learn how to read these three horizons together will we be able see how the leaves and the trees (words and sentences) begin to form a well-ordered forest (the whole biblical canon), a forest that has come to us through many seasons of growth, decay, and rebirth (i.e., the progression of covenant that have led to Christ).

In the next three sessions, we will spend time on each horizon. But let me give some biblical bases for each of them.  Continue reading

Kephalē and Context: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Headship

mwFor more thirty years, an exegetical debate has raged between complementarians and egalitarians over a single word: Kephalē, the Greek word for ‘head.’

The former argue that this word means “authority over,” while the latter argues the word means “source.” In the New Testament, this word can be found to have both connotations, even in the same book. For instance, Colossians identifies Christ as the preeminent head of the church and the nourishing head from which the church derives its life and growth.

Colossians 1:18. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent

Colossians 2:19. . . . the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Still, debate remains. Without getting into all the exegetical evidence—of which there is plenty; Wayne Grudem tracks down 2336 uses of kephalē in one article—I want to show how the claim that “authority over” is exegetically unsubstantiated is actually unfounded. Far better to see kephalē as a word that wonderfully displays the original design of Genesis 1–2, men and women equal in value, distinct in roles. Continue reading

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race and Ethnicity

 

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
— Ephesians 2:14–18 —

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race (Sermon Audio)

From the timing of this sermon it might look like it was a response to the recent Executive Order from President Trump. That’s not the case. Yet, the timing does seem providential as this final sermon in our series (Rhythms of Mercy: Cultivating Habits of Holiness in a Hostile World), comes to address the difficult subject of race and ethnicity.

Instead of tackling the problem of racism head on, something for another sermon, this message steps back to lay a biblical foundation for understanding what the Bible says about race. Following the contours of redemptive history (i.e., Creation — Fall — Redemption — New Creation) I try to show in this sermon how God’s intention has always been to bring reconciliation to all peoples. Clearly, this is the aim of the gospel and hence racial reconciliation is a central implication of applying the gospel to all areas of life.

You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes available here. Additionally, there are discussion questions below based on the sermon and many more resources that helped me think through these issues below. In particular, these resources focus on listening to African-American Christians whose various experiences have helped me tune in to the larger issues of ongoing racism in our country. I pray they will help you, as well, and that God would give us listening ears, loving hearts, and wisdom to pursue compassionate justice. Continue reading

‘Cardiac Discipleship’: Five Ways to Pursue the Heart in Spiritual Formation

you-areYou Are What You Love is a needed corrective to overly cerebral approaches to discipleship. It is a challenge to followers of Christ to evaluate how ‘secular liturgies’ are training our hearts to love things other than God and our neighbor. And it presents a vision of discipleship that does more than just cement spiritual disciplines in new believers; it calls us seek first the kingdom and to live with hearts enlarged for Christ and his glory.

In what follows I share a few quotes where Smith speaks directly about discipleship. I hope they will whet your appetite for your book and pique your interest in how discipleship is a matter of heart cultivation.

1. Discipleship cultivates the appetite and curates the heart.

While discipleship is a matter of learning, it is more like learning how to cook than to read code. Disciples hunger and thirst for the things of God and know how to feed on him, and good ‘disciplers’ seek to cultivate cravings in the heart of new believers. So,

Discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our love and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the Kingdom of God.’ (2) Continue reading

Praying with Passion (Psalm 126)

rhythms-of-holinessAs we begin 2017, our church has taken January to focus on a handful of spiritual disciplines—personal and public. The first in our series is prayer. But instead of just commending its importance and techniques to help, I took the route of seeing how God forms desire for prayer in our hearts.

By drawing near to God, by remembering the promises of his Word, and by desiring with increasing anguish Christ’s kingdom to come, we grow more passionate in our prayer. Indeed, passion is not a word that simply means “with heighten emotion.” Rather, its original sense relates to suffering (hence “Christ’s passion”), and this is what we do when we pray—we entering into the sufferings of Christ and weep for his will to be done.

At first glance, this kind of praying may seem off-putting, but I believe, Scripture—Psalm 126 especially—teaches us that this is the kind of prayer that endures. So if you want to grow in prayer in 2016, consider what Psalm 126 says and how it fuels prayer. You can read the sermon notes or listen online. Discussion questions and resources are below. Continue reading

Spiritual Desire: The Key to Cultivating Spiritual Disciplines

sun-heartOften, when we come to spiritual disciplines we list them, plan for them, and then labor to perform them. In the best scenario, we realize—sooner rather than later—we can’t do them apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we pray and ask God to help us.

Yet, such approach may go wrong from the start. Why? Because we put the law (and its list) in front of the gospel (and its power). In other words, when we devote ourselves to discipline, we “covenant” with a bank of rules we trust to make us better—better people, better Christians, better (you fill in the blank). But of course, the law never brings life and can only be a delight after God has written his law on our heart.

The problem with any law-full approach to discipline, however, is not that it contains laws. The gospel is not antinomianlawless. The third use of the law is a gift to the growing disciple. The problem is when we call upon the Spirit to assist us after OUR plan is put in place. Now granted, if you set out to read the Bible, pray, and fast, you have already taken your cues from the Spirit’s inspired Word—especially, on that last discipline. But still the root cause of burnout remains. What is that? The problem of desire. Continue reading