In What Did Old Testament Saints Believe?

daniel-mccullough-539577-unsplash.jpgIn discussions about salvation and interpretation of the Old Testament, two related questions are often asked.

  1. How were the Old Testament saints saved? Or, in whom or what did they believe?
  2. How much did the Old Testament know about the coming Christ?

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Recently, in reading through The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, I came across a succinct, if slightly archaic, answer to these questions. In conversation form, Fisher explains how the Old Testament saints beheld Christ through the types and shadows of the Law. In short, he answers that the salvation we possess is of a piece with those under the old covenant. There are not two ways of salvation, but one, as Hebrews 11 suggests.

The difference between Israel and the church (which is today composed of Jews and Gentiles) is less about how they are saved, but how they came to know the one savior, Jesus Christ the Son of God. The former saw Christ through a veil of old covenant shadows and types; the latter have seen him in the substance of his person and work, now proclaimed through the witnesses of his apostles.

As always, such questions require elongated consideration about the whole Bible. But for short answers, what follows helpfully explains how the Old Testament saints beheld Christ. Continue reading

Justice, Mercy, and Wisdom: How the Cross Reveals and ‘Reconciles’ the Attributes of God

jeremy-bishop-480184-unsplash.jpgIt has been said that on the cross God’s wrath and mercy meet. Indeed, on the cross the full revelation of God’s undivided attributes are manifested. As just and justifier, Jesus receives in his body the full outpouring of God’s wrath. Yet, as God Incarnate, he simultaneously displays the love of God, as 1 John 3:16 states, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Accordingly, all other moral attributes (e.g., truthfulness, justice, goodness, mercy, peace, righteousness) are revealed in perfect proportion.

I say proportion, but in the Lord there are not proportions, parts, or passions (taken in the older sense of the word, where men are moved by passionate forces outside themselves). In truth, God’s holy character is perfect light. Yet, refracted through creation and especially the cross, we come to see the many hues of God’s holy character. And because our minds require time and sequence to contemplate God’s unified holiness, the cross not only reconciles us to God, it also reconciles in our minds how seemingly divergent attributes are held together in the Lord.

On this point, Edward Fisher in his work The Marrow of Modern Divinity proposes a conversation between God’s many attributes and how they might have talked about the cross of Christ. To be sure, his conversation is maximally anthropological (i.e., it uses human speech to talk about God). In this way, it is unhelpful in thinking on the simplicity of God (i.e., the nature of his unchanging, undivided essence). But for us, finite creatures, who must come to understand the rainbow of God’s glory through sequential time and logical relationships, his conversation is helpful and I share it below. Continue reading

Seven Good Words: The Work Jesus Did on the Cross

goodfriday04.jpg. . . they crucified him . . .
— Luke 23:33 —

For six hours Jesus body hung on the cross. Nailed to the tree, another crucified enemy of the state, Jesus labored to breathe as pain racked his body and mockers filled the air with vitriol. Tempted by Satan one last time to save himself (see the words in Luke 23:35, 37, 39), Jesus remained, inching closer death. Still, the end of Jesus’ life was not a passive surrender to the inevitable. Just the opposite, it was the climax of his earthly labor.

Indeed, Luke only uses three words to speak of his crucifixion. He revels not in the physical agony Jesus experienced. Rather, the good doctor focuses on what the cross meant. His testimony is a work of theology, not autopsy. For him, the importance of Jesus’s death was not found in the physical pain, but in the message it sent to the world. Like the other Evangelists, he tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (19:10), and on the cross we find the climax of Jesus’ work of salvation.

And thus, to understand the cross we must ponder what his cross means and what the final work of Christ meant to accomplish. And to do that we can and must follow the lead of Luke and the other Gospels, who capture the final moments of Jesus’ life with seven different sayings on the cross. Continue reading

How the Cross of Christ Crucifies Sin

crossAs we prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider this meditation from Alexander Watson, a 19th Century British curate in the Church of England. In the 1840s he preached a week-long series of sermons on  Christ’s seven words from the cross. And in his first sermon on Luke 23:34 (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”), he closed with a powerful reflection on what Christ accomplished on the cross—namely, salvation from sin.

In other words, Christ’s death does more than grant clemency to guilty sinners. Christ’s death justifies guilty sinners and frees sinners to pursue a life of increasing holiness. In other words, Christ’s death does not just save us in our sin; it saves us from our sin. While awaiting the redemption of the body, the cross of Christ effectively saves us from the consequences, causes, and corruptions of sin so that we can flee from sin, crucify our flesh, and pursue good works.

Tragically, the life-giving message of holiness can be lost in a truncated message that only focuses on guilt removal. Therefore, we need to give attention to every aspect of the cross, including the hopeful message of holiness exemplified by Watson.

On the finished work of Christ that empowers Christians to pursue holiness, he writes,

The atonement for sin is a finished act. The application of that atonement is a continual work. That portion of our Lord’s priestly office which consisted in his giving himself a ransom for the sins of the world has been accomplished, and can be no more repeated. “By one offering he has for ever perfected them that are sanctified, and there remains no more sacrifice for sin’’ (Heb. 9:26). But this consecration of his redeemed by his one offer does not exclude—but rather it involves, and requires—the continued mediation and intercession of him who is our great high priest, the one who offers prayer for us continually. And since it is his death upon the cross which gives to Christ’s mediation its meritorious efficacy and acceptable savor in God’s sight, we may be well assured that it will not avail for those in whom it does not work the conquest of sin and the presence of penitent desires after holiness.  Continue reading

Behold *the Man*: B.B. Warfield on the Perfection of Christ

raphael-nogueira-519766-unsplashWhat a straightedge is to a carpenter’s board, Jesus is to the human soul.
— Fred Zaspel —

In his summary of B.B. Warfield’s theology, Fred Zaspel observes the unique way Warfield presents the humanity of Jesus Christ. Instead of just showing the weaknesses and limitations of Christ, he portrayed our Lord as fully and wonderfully human. In other words, while defending the full deity of Christ, he also insisted on capturing the full and glorious humanity of Christ. Jesus came to identify himself with fallen humanity, yet in himself he was humanity par excellence. Jesus was the perfect man and an image of what mankind was supposed to be and, amazingly, what humanity will be once again, when we see our resurrected Lord.

To get a sense of what Warfield’s view of Christ’s humanity consider these three truths, accompanied by Warfield quotations. Continue reading

Reading Proverbs Wisely

samantha-sophia-34200.jpgIn Proverbs the ideas of wisdom, righteousness, and reward are prevalent. And as I highlighted here and here, these three ideas are developed together under the old covenant. Therefore, they cannot be directly applied to the new covenant believer—at least, not without showing how they apply to us in Christ. That said, they are important for understanding the righteousness of Christ and the way in which we are to follow him when, by the Spirit, we walk by faith.

In what follows I want to consider how to read the Proverbs wisely by holding the old covenant and new covenant together as we read Proverbs. In this approach to the Proverbs, we see the covenantal context of Proverbs relates to Christ and the whole counsel of Scripture. In other words, by holding these biblical realities together, we begin see how the wisdom of the old covenant called for God’s people to enjoy God’s gracious promises through wisely applying the law of Moses. However, for us, because we do not live under Moses, we learn how to apply them in Christ. Graphically, we might illustrate the difference like this:

Old Covenant

Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness >> Reward (=Inheritance) . . . [Gospel]

New Covenant

Gospel >> Faith  >> Reward (=Inheritance) >> Law >> Wisdom >> Righteousness**

** Righteousness defined as a progressive growth in righteousness (i.e. sanctification) as the believer exercises faith in God’s Word, demonstrated in love and justice.

With this framework in place, we can see that the wisdom of the Proverbs still has a vital place in the life of a Christian. But it is not a pathway to salvation or blessing, as some prosperity preachers wrongly apply the proverbs. Neither are the Proverbs timeless principles that promise material blessing today; they are instead enduring principles that teach the child of God how to walk in the light of Christ.

In truth, by living out the Proverbs, we are often protected from many earthly trials and find greater earthly success. However, such proverbial fruit is all the more reason to be careful with Proverbs. Why? Because earthly fruit through a Provers-centered life does not mean that we can read Proverbs as a certified manual for ensuring material blessing. In fact, there are hints in the Proverbs that righteousness is itself a reward: “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice” (16:8).

In the end, we should read Proverbs regularly, but  we must read them wisely. And to help us read wisely, let’s consider how Proverbs speaks of righteousness and how we might apply its words in and through Christ today. Continue reading

“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)

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“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)

In Ephesians Paul calls the church to walk in wisdom by the power of the Spirit. This includes children. And in this week’s sermon, we saw how children in the Lord (believing children) are motivated to obey and honor their parents.

Indeed, in only three verses (Ephesians 6:1–3) there are a lot of things to consider, especially with the way Paul uses Exodus 20:12 to motivate children to obey their parents. Take time to listen to the sermon online, as it considers how the promise of inheritance in Exodus 20:12 is applied to believing children. You can read the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources can be found below.  Continue reading

The Enduring Goodness of Marriage: What the Gospel Has to Say to a Culture of Cohabitation

old-people-couple-together-connected.jpgWith his characteristic biblical insight and cultural engagement, Tim Keller’s book on marriage, The Meaning of Marriageis filled with wisdom and encouragement. Aimed at marrieds and singles considering marriage (and singles who have sworn off the institution), Keller provides a helpful look at God’s design for marriage.

Importantly, he spends the first chapter considering the state of marriage today. He recognizes the way in which marriage has been assailed by the culture, and he makes a cogent argument for the enduring goodness of marriage in a secular age.

It’s from this first chapter, I want to share a few quotations that reflect on the pain of marriage, the enduring goodness of marriage, the perversion of marriage (i.e., how redefined expectations for marriage have twisted God’s original design); and way the gospel brings hope and meaning to marriage.

If these quotes resonate with you, I encourage you to pick up Keller’s excellent book. Continue reading

Marriage: Counter-Cultural in Every Generation

louis-moncouyoux-3615There are many who have read Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22–33 as an accommodation, or even an appropriation, to the Greco-Roman culture. However, Clinton Arnold in his outstanding commentary on this section, shows why that cannot be true. Taking an extended look at “The Roles of Wives in Roman-Era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor” (pp. 372–79), Arnold shows why Paul’s words are radically counter-cultural—both in his day and in ours.

Writing to a church combatting spiritual powers, Paul is not adopting the idea of patriarchy and headship from the Roman culture. If anything, he is opposing an ancient form of feminism that saw women asserting greater independence. In particular, citing many primary sources, Arnold shows how growing wealth among women, coupled with positions of leadership and the rise of goddess cults all worked to create “freedom and opportunity for women,” which had the effect of creating competition between married men and women (376).

This “new Roman woman,” as Arnold calls it, shows why Paul’s words about marriage and the family in Ephesians are not simply a cultural accommodation. Rather, as he puts it,

Ephesians was thus written to a place and at a time where traditional Greek and Roman roles for women and wives were in a dynamic flux. It is no longer accurate to portray the social-cultural environment as oppressive for women, denying them opportunities for leadership in religious and civic institutions, and extending to them no places of involvement outside of the domestic sphere. Of course, these opportunities would not have been available to most of the peasant and populations. But the same opportunities would have been closed to peasant and slave men as well since their primary focus was on survival. (378)

This is a vast change from the way many have read Ephesians. But we can ask, what significance does this have for our reading of Ephesians? Continue reading

Washed by the Water of the Word: How Paul Applies Ezekiel’s Words on Marriage to Christ and the Church

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Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
— Ephesians 5:25–27 —

In his commentary on Ephesians, Clinton Arnold shows how Paul takes up the imagery and language of Ezekiel to explain the work of Christ in purifying his bride, the church. As Ezekiel 16 looks forward to a day when the God of Israel will redeem and purify his covenant people, it is important to see how Ezekiel’s prophecy is fulfilled by Christ and the church. Thankfully, Paul demonstrates how Christ’s purchase and purification of his bride gives us explicit textual evidence for that fulfillment.

Arnold picks up the way Paul has made those connections and helpfully shows us how the many passages describing God’s marriage with Israel (e.g., Isaiah 54:5; 58:8; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:1–10; Ezekiel 16; Hosea 2:19–20; 4:12; 5:4; 14:4) are picked up and applied to the bride of Christ composed of Jews and Gentiles. Here’s what he says, Continue reading