Gospel-Motivated Generosity is a Mark of True Obedience

Some of the largest philanthropists in the world are non-Christians.  Agnostics love to give to their Alma Maters as much as Christians; and the generosity of many believers does not always spring from gospel-centered reflection on Jesus Christ.  Accordingly, we need to think more carefully about the relationship between believing the gospel and obeying God’s commands to give generously.

Among many places in the Bible that address this subject, Exodus teaches us that obedience, in general, and giving, in particular, are motivated by grace. Yesterday, we saw how obedience was a result of the Spirit’s work.  Now today, I want to reflect on how God brought about obedience in the people of Israel, and how he does something similar in our lives.

He does not accomplish obedience in us through demand (alone), threat (alone), or reward (alone).  Each of these speech-acts are important in their own right, but ultimately God does something more powerful to effect change in us.  Something we should take note of, in order to live lives according to the gospel.

The Cause of Israel’s Obedience

In Exodus 35, Moses called for Israel to give gold, silver, precious wood and fabrics for the construction of the tabernacle.  If you read carefully, you will notice that he doesn’t badger, manipulate, or threaten.  He asked plainly, and the people gave generously.  In fact, the giving was so abundant that Moses had to tell Israel to stop giving (Exod 36:5-7).  This should immediately cause us to ask: How?  Why did Israel who days earlier made a false God, now give with such generosity?  Was this a guilt offering?  Or was something else going on?

To begin with, lets read Exodus 35:20-29 and then lets make a few observations.  Moses records,

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the LORD. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the LORD’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.

Observations on Gospel-Centered Giving and Obedience

In these ten verses, we see a wonderful model of grace-inspired giving.  If what Moses describes speaks of the totality of Israel, it is likely that all of Israel gave from hearts that were stirred up in affection for God.  Thus, the giving was great because of God’s earlier grace in not only saving them from Egypt but in sparing them from the wrath they deserved because of the Golden Calf debacle.

There are a number of things to notice in these verses that pertain to obedience and giving.

First, the generosity was not motivated by guilt.  Moses did not badger, demand, or manipulate.  He called and Israel responded.  Apparently, something had happened between Aaron’s call for gold and Moses’ call.  The only text standing in between is God’s gracious revelation which presumably accounts for the change.  Moses records that Israel’s hearts/spirits moved them.  Here is the lesson: true obedience, true giving, true Christianity (in the OT and the NT) is a matter of a changed heart, not just a winsome sales pitch.

Second, if you want to produce giving people, you don’t use outward means of solicitation.  Sure, pep talks, testimonies, and logical reasons for giving can be produced.  But in the long run, Christians will give in direct proportion to their heart-felt understanding of the gospel.  If someone is born again and their mind is taken captive to the gospel, they will be quick to give to the work of the gospel.  Now of course this is according to their means—and it was in Israel, as well.  But those committed to seeing the gospel go forward should be asking themselves, what can I do financially to further the ministry of my church or the ministry of gospel-preaching missionaries.

Third, grace is what motivated Israel.  It is not coincidental that such generous obedience follows from God’s revelation to Moses and the renewal of the covenant in Exodus 34.  God’s character was revealed and pronounced with grace and goodness, this in spite of Israel’s wrath-inviting sin.  Thus, grace seems to be the reason why Israel had such a change of heart. Just the same, grace should motivate you and I in our obedience, giving, and in everything else.

What We Are Missing

I think this is something that is often missed.  And it is missed by pastors as much as it is missed by anyone.  Such gospel ministers who “save” people with the gospel and then try to produce growth and discipleship through the law. But it is not just pastors, parents are just as culpable, as they  focus on rules and making their children submit, instead of winning their hearts by the grace of God.

Somehow in efforts to produce good Christians and good children, we have missed the way God motivates through his inspired servants.  Moses was overwhelmed by God’s glorious grace in Exodus 34, and he spoke about YHWH’s abundant grace for the rest of his life–just read Deuteronomy.

Likewise, Paul when writing to the Corinthian church urged them to give, not with appeals to conscience or legal demands.  Rather, he called them to give out of glad hearts, hearts overflowing with thanksgiving in the gospel. Notice what he says in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

In these words, the great gospel missionary reminds the Corinthians of God’s abundant grace, total sufficiency, and he spurs them on to give so that they might see greater gospel fruit—the lost being won to Christ, the gospel reaching new peoples, etc.  He motivates with the gracious gospel.  So should we.

The Deeper Problem

Still, the deeper problem is not that we motivate others with the law and calls to do better.  We do the same with ourselves.  A number of years ago, I asked a prominent Bible teacher how he has remained faithful in the work of the Lord.  His answer surprised me.  Instead of appealing to God’s word, or the Spirit, he simply said that every day, he simply made the choice to keep following God.

I guess for him, it had worked, but I know too many people who have failed at the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of Christianity.  Indeed, I think God wants us to fail at self-sufficient sanctification.  I would even say, that the man who said his obedience to the Lord came from simply doing it everyday was radically dependent on the promises of God and the power of the Spirit.

But therein lies the problem: The way he walked by faith in God’s gospel was assumed, not articulated.  Sure, he depended much on the word of God.  In another conversation, he said, he studied a different book of the Bible every month and that over decades he had been through the Bible countless times.  Thus, he was radically dependent on God’s word and captivated by its vision of Christ.  Still, he did not communicate that when asked about how to remain faithful.

Thus, we need again and again to point out from God’s Word how and where we find motivation for holy living.  Such obedience is motivated by the gospel and nothing else, and here in Exodus we find an excellent example of a people who gave richly because they had received richly.

May we do the same.  May we risk, give, and live for Christ not out of the goodness of our hearts, but rather because of the goodness of God proclaimed and promised in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until he comes, may we live in radical dependence on God’s grace, and may we trust that his grace will be sufficient for all that he calls us to do.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Gospel Logic: Taking God at His Word

Over the last week, I put up a handful of posts on how the Old Testament saints reasoned from the promises of God in order to follow God in amazing ways.  That is, they did not simply do what they were supposed to do, because they were unswervingly obedient.  Rather, the promises of the gospel took up residence in their heart and they were compelled to act by the faith they had in God’s word.

Today, I list them in one place/one post.  I hope they can be helpful.  There are more places where this gospel logic is seen in Scripture too.  Perhaps, we can come back to it another week.

Gospel Logic: Learning To Take God At His Word

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

Moses Gospel Logic

The Gospel Logic of Psalm 42-43

The Gospel Logic of Psalm 103

What God Commands, He Gives: A Reflection on 2 Peter 1:3-11

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

What God Commands, He Gives: A Reflection on 2 Peter 1:3-11

Augustine once said, “Command what you will, oh God, but give what you command.”  This prayerful axiom is an incredibly important lesson for Christians to learn: That the God who demands perfect righteousness supplies all that he demands.  This is the good news of New Covenant.

2 Peter 1:3-11

One place where this truth becomes evident is in a passage of Scripture that at first sounds like we, the Christian, must make every effort to generate virtues to add to our faith.  The passage is 2 Peter 1:3-11, and the problem is discerning where the good works in verses 5-7 come from.  From God or from us?

First lets read the passage and then notice four textual clues that show us that God is the supplier of the good deeds he calls us to.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Four Clues 

There are at least four clues from the text that the imperative “to supplement” (epichorēgēsate) in verse 5 is not something we do on our own, but rather, as is true in all biblical Christianity, God is always at work in us to will and do all that he commands of us (cf. Phil 2:12-13).  Let’s consider them together.

First, in verse 3-4, Peter gives the wonderful promise that God gives us everything we need for life and godliness.  Therefore, prior to calling for “works,” he points to the boundless reservoirs of grace already available in Christ–and make no mistake, the resources of grace are not a substance acquired from God, but rather the spiritual favor and power that comes from a covenantal union with Christ.  Accordingly, from a genuine knowledge of God in Christ and from his never failing promises, all that the passage calls believers to do is premised on the fact that he has antecedently provided that which he calls (cf John 15:5; Rom 8:32).

Second, this general principle of the imperative following the indicative–which is a most valuable lesson for interpreting the NT epistles and for understanding gospel-powered obedience–is followed up by a more specific textual link between verse 3 and verse 5.  In verse 5, Peter calls Christians to add knowledge to their faith, and virtue.  Later in 2 Peter 3:18, he will close with the command to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  But both of these commands follow from the explicit reality, that God has made himself known to his elect exiles (cf. 1 Pet 1:1).  This is seen in 2 Peter 1:2, where Peter greets his audience as those who know the Lord and are growing in that knowledge.  And in the next verse, he explains that knowledge of God is the instrument by which God supplies the believer with everything they need for life and godliness.

Third, in verses 5-7, when Peter commands us to add to faith, virtue, knowledge,  self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, there is noticeable move from faith to love (cf. Galatians 5:6), and maybe even a more defined progression from faith to love, through virtue, knowledge, self-control, etc–though it would be hard to make the ordering normative, as much as it is descriptive.  Nevertheless, the main command to supplement these characteristics is retained from verse 5.  Thus, in the process of adding all of these characteristics, comes the necessary dependence on God’s promises and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, verses 8-9 serve as an evaluative tool to discern if indeed we are walking in the Spirit, if we are experience the power of God in our Christian life.  They invite the Christian to do a spiritual inventory and to take stock of what is there.  If fruit is lacking, the imperative does not say to go out and find self-control (which is a fruit of the spirit, Gal 5:22) or to self-generate knowledge (which also is a gift, Prov 2:1-7), or to find endurance from within.  Rather, a poor inventory, calls the Christian to go back to the beginning: To believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  From that place of abiding belief, the believer looks to the promises of God and finds help in time of need and promises from God for life-change.  Thus, the evaluation does not call for works divorced from faith, but faith that overflows in good works.

Fourth and last, in verse 10-11, we see Peter’s eschatological promise that those who do these things prove their election in this life.  Genuine believers will be kept from falling and their entrance to the eternal kingdom will be well-furnished.  To stress the point in question, we do not provide an entrance ourselves to heaven, nor are we the ones who are responsible for finding riches to add to that entrance.  Rather, in Christ and through a lifetime of faith in his gospel that overflows into all the attributes listed in verses 5-7, God gives to the believer knowledge, godliness, and love–to only name a few.

Does This Promote Laxity in the Believer?

This heavy emphasis on grace and provision could easily promote laxity, but that would be to misunderstand the point.  God does not motivate with fear; he motivates with fullness.  For those who are full of love (for God and others), they cannot but do all that God commands.  Remember, under the New Covenant, the commandments of God are not burdensome, for those who have been born again.  For those who see the commands of God burdensome, they are either trying to complete them in their flesh, or they do not have any spiritual power with which to complete them.  The result is disinterest and spiritual burnout.  The collective effect of this are bloated church rolls with names of people who had a religious experience but who never experienced the power of conversion.

The Bible motivates obedience differently.  Just as God gives eternal life, he gives good works for the believer to do (Eph 2:10).  He bears fruit in the life of his Spirit-filled saints (Gal 5:22-23).  He gives spiritual gifts for the purpose of edifying (not dividing) the church (1 Cor 12-14).  And he puts desires in the hearts of his saints that he intends for them to pursue with vigor (Ps 37:4; Ezek 36:26-27).

All that to say, what God gives to the believer is not simply the capacity to do good; He gives the will and the power (Phil 2:12-13).  He doesn’t save people for them to do nothing. Born again believers grow and mature–at different rates and with different results.  But all spiritual children grow to look more and more like their Father in heaven.

Returning to our text, Christians’ entrance into God’s kingdom (at the end of the age) will be richly provided, because God has supplied them with the sanctifying fruits of knowledge, godliness, and love.  Still, while such things are provided by God, they still must be exercised by the believer; hence the serious charge to make ones calling and election sure.  Do not be lethargic.  Press into these realities.  Exercise the life God has given to you for the greater display of his glory!  And still, with that balance in place, at the end of the age, all that the believer has done in his obedience is attributed primarily not to deserving children of God, but the amazing grace of God, and the fact that he supplies all that he solicits.

Conclusion: God Supplies All That He Solicits

In the end, 2 Peter 1:3-11 does not promote a system of faith in God plus good works by man.  Instead, the true believer is walk by faith in all ages of their life, from faith to faith, they are to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, so that their faith is not unadorned (cf. James 2).  Moreover, they are to add to their faith these things, because God has provided them in abundance for the believer, and such is the call of all genuine disciples of Christ–to do all that he instructs–so that we might be more like him.

May we not be afraid to evaluate our lives by 2 Peter 1:5-7, and when we find ourselves lacking–and we will–may we go back to the gospel promises found in verses 3-4 before working harder to do better.  The richness of our heavenly homecoming is not based on how much good WE do for God in this life, it is how much GOD has done for us as we trust in him day-in and day-out.  God calls us not to create these good deeds but to walk in them.  So walk in a manner worthy of gospel, letting your faith grow into all manners of Christ-exalting love.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Logic from Psalm 103

Gospel Logic Remembers God’s Covenant Faithfulness.

This week we have been taking especial note of the way biblical characters think.  Since our mind is the seat of all change in our lives, and because God’s word has called us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2), and because God has supplied us in his Word with all that we need for cognitive transformation (2 Pet 1:3-4; cf. Ps 19:7-11), we ought to think often about how we can fill our minds with gospel truths, and to know where to find such thoughts when times of trouble come–and they will come.

One of those places of personal gospel proclamation is Psalm 103. Today, we are simply going to point out a nine truths from Psalm 103–truths that have the power to lift weary souls and engender hope in the hearts of the desperate.

Gospel Logic speaks to himself; it does not listen to himself (v. 1).

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Gospel Logic reminds oneself of the comfort that memory brings; poor memory is one of the first steps towards misery (v. 2). 

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, . . . 

Gospel Logic recalls God’s history of personal faithfulness (v. 3-5).

Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Gospel Logic revisits God’s history of redemptive faithfulness (v. 6-7).

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

Gospel Logic ruminates on the name and character of God (v. 8-12) 

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Gospel Logic does not try to make oneself larger, smarter, or more succesful in order to find security or comfort; rather, it embraces and admits weakness and delights in God’s unconditional electing love for them (v. 13-14).  

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Gospel Logic reasons that this trial is short-lived and will not pass into the new creation; meanwhile the promise of God’s eternal weight of glory keeps our hearts anchored to God’s goodness (v. 15-19).

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Gospel Logic does not try to reduce God’s sovereignty, it does not delight in man’s free will.  It delights in the One whose reign is absolute and meticulous (v. 19).

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Gospel Logic offers a sacrifice of praise based on God’s infinite worth, not based on the presence of joy in my heart.  Whether we feel it or not, God is radiantly beautiful, and he is always worthy of worship. (v. 20-22)

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

May we read Psalm 103 today and be spurred on towards love and good deeds as we hear the gospel: Soul, bless the Lord!  And forget not all of his benefits… Such gospel logic will sustain us in this life, and it will find eternal expression in the age to come.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Moses’ Gospel Logic

Yesterday, we saw how Abraham wrestled with God’s word in order to believe his promise (Gen 15:6) and to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:1ff).  We called such thinking that gave precedence to God’s revelation over our reasonable (or unreasonable) feelings “Gospel Logic.”  Today, we turn to Exodus 32 to see how Moses engaged in the same kind of thinking.

A Sinful People in Need of Something…

1 Corinthians 10 points to Exodus 32 as a universal example of what not to do. Poised to receive God’s order of service for true worship, Israel gets impatient (Exod 32). They hire Aaron to make new gods, and on one of the forty days that Moses in on the Mount of Sinai, the people of Israel sin against God and break the covenant that had just been ratified in Exodus 24.

On the mountain, Moses receives word from the Lord, “And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” (Exod 32:7-8).

What is Moses to do?

On the way down the mountainside, he hears the drunken sound of pagan worship in the camp (32:18-20).  He gets to the base camp, and he smashes the tablets.  The covenant is broken.  In the scenes that follow, Moses inquires of Aaron (32:22-24) and commissions the sons of Levi to slaughter their own family members in order to avert the wrath of God (32:25-29).  The day is done.  The people are undone.  Night falls.

Exodus 32:30 records a new day.  The day of judgment has passed, but the threat of the plague remains (v. 35).  What will Moses do?  Surely he was thinking the same thing.  The covenant people of Israel have broken their wedding vows, and something must be done.  Not a passive man, Moses sets off to inquire of God telling the people, “You have sinned a great sin.  And I will go up to the Lord, . . . ” (32:30).

What would he do?  What would he say?  The rest of verse tells us, “perhaps I can make atonement for your sins.”

Atonement.  This is what the people needed.  But how would he accomplish this.  The plans for the tabernacle were destroyed.  The sin was so great, and God’s holiness was so much greater what would he do?  How would he plead his case?  Such questions lead us to see how Moses reckoned the matter, and in his offer, we will see how gospel logic at work.

Moses Gospel Logic: From Sinai to Eden and Back Again

To understand fully how Moses might have arrived at his self-sacrificing offer, we need to consider the antecedent theology that Moses would have had, and that he would have drawn upon to plead his case and make his offer.

Atonement, and the need for blood sacrifice, was common throughout the ancient near east.  Accordingly, Israel as they worshiped around the golden altar made sacrifices.  While they needed divine instruction for true sacrifices, they did not need information on how to sacrifice.  While they did not have the book of Exodus, they had ample knowledge of the sacrifices offered In Egypt.

But where did these come from?  From God, where else?  Pagan sacrifices are echoes of the first sacrifice, the one God made in the Garden.  Indeed, sacrifice in general terms was imprinted on human civilization from the Garden of Eden forward. Remember: When Adam and Eve sinned they needed a covering, and so God killed an animal an clothed them.  The seed of substitution was sown in this act, and it was passed from God to Adam to Abel.

(For a biblical exposition of these patriarchal and pagan sacrifices, see William Symington, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ [1834], pp. 66-92; likewise, for a helpful explanation of the way pagan worship corresponds to the original pattern passed down from Adam and Noah, see Jeffrey Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology)

As the biblical testimony goes, not all offerings were of equal value.  In Genesis 4, Abel’s offering was based on his faith (Heb 11), but what was his faith in?  Surely, it based on the revelation conveyed to Cain and Abel’s parents, modeled in Genesis 3, that said bloodshed was needed. By contrast, Cain’s offering was faithless, because he refused to believe the need for shed blood.  Instead of substitutionary offering, he brought fruit from the field.  His offering was not according to God’s word, it did not substitute life for life, and thus it was not acceptable to the Lord.

If Moses was indeed retracing the history of God’s atonement and means of provision, he would have next thought of Abraham and Isaac.  In what would become Genesis 22, YHWH commands Abraham to offer his son. This is far more than an animal sacrifice, something Abraham (and Moses) had done plenty of times.  Now, God was upping the ante.  He was testing Abraham (22:1), and he was setting in redemptive history a portrait of a substitution—a divinely provided lamb in place of Abraham’s seed (people of faith).

Like Abel, Abraham had to make this offering in faith–faith in God’s word.  As we saw yesterday, this is exactly what God’s friend did.  Thus, he believed that God could raise his son from the dead.  If indeed Moses was pondering all that God had revealed to him in the law on Sinai, and all that God had done in Israel’s history, it is little wonder that Moses concluded that perhaps his own substitution might become the means by which Israel would be saved.

Putting this gospel logic in dramatic prose, James M. Boyce imagines what the night might have been like,

The night passed, and the morning came when Moses was to reascend the mountain.  He had been thinking.  Sometime during the night a way that might possibly divert the wrath of God against the people had come to him.  He remembered the sacrifices of the Hebrew patriarchs and the newly instituted sacrifice of the Passover.  Certainly God had shown by such sacrifices that he was prepared to accept an innocent substitute in place of the just death of the sinner.  His wrath could sometimes fall on the substitute.  Perhaps God would accept… When morning came, Moses ascended the mountain with great determination. Reaching the top, he began to speak to God (Quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus, 1013).

Concluding Thoughts

Like Abraham, Moses practiced Gospel Logic.  He reflected on the character of God, God’s revealed word, the sin of the people, and like Abraham who reckoned that God could raise the dead, Moses conjectured, maybe, just maybe God might take me in place of my people.  So Moses, with boldness and selfless love for God’s sinful people laid himself on the altar: “No if you would on forgive their sin.  But if not”–and here is where the offer comes–“please me from the book You have written” (Exod 32:32).

In the end, his offer is not accepted (32:33-34), but not because the idea is wrong, but because the substitute is blemished.  Even though Moses was not complicit in the crime, he was a son of Adam and by nature incapable of atoning for the sins of the people.  Relatively speaking, he was innocent, but time would reveal that in his own heart lay a dark distrust for God and a willingness to strike the rock when God said speak (Num 20:10-13).

Moses was not the perfect substitute.  Yet, his intercession foreshadows the one whose self-sacrifice would be accepted.  Moses receives God’s word to continue to lead the people which implies that the story will continue, the hope of the true Messiah remains. This is good news for Moses, Israel, and us.  And Moses example of wrestling with the Lord like Abraham and Jacob should remind us to press into the truths of God’s word and to find solace in the darkest nights.

When God’s wrath was ready to consume Israel, Moses Gospel Logic reckoned that “perhaps” he could intercede.  We must reckon in the same fashion, not that we can intercede for others (although see Paul in Romans 9).  No, we must reckon with greater  confidence that because in Jesus Christ there is no “perhaps,” all that we ask in his name will be accomplished.  This is God’s promise to us in John 14:13-14, and it is based on the inexhaustible merits of Christ.  In his priestly service, Jesus was gladly received by the Father, and as the Father’s beloved Son, all that he does and asks, is answered.  This is our good news.

May such knowledge of our great high priest comfort us today, and beckon us not to lose heart for tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

Abraham’s Gospel Logic

If we define Gospel Logic as the mental act of interpreting life in light of God’s promises, the first major figure in the Bible who engaged in the activity was Abraham.

Called from worshiping idols in Ur, to become the father of God’s chosen race, Abraham was a man who must have grappled with God’s unfolding plan of redemption through his lineage.  Coming out of his pagan background, Genesis 12-22 shows the unfolding of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham.

Genesis 12, 15 and Romans 4

In Genesis 12, YHWH gives Abraham a three-fold promise: a land, a people, and his blessing.  The rest of Genesis, indeed the rest of the Bible, unfolds this tripartite promise.  In Genesis 15, YHWH comes to Abraham, who is still childless, and he tells him again that he will have offspring.  Genesis 15:6 records this pregnant statement: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  God’s promissory word came to Abraham in power.  The patriarch believed, and the rest of the Bible points to this man as the father of faith because of his trust in God’s word (offspring that would outnumber the stars), not his present circumstance (childlessness).

In this simple retelling, it is evident that Abraham had already started the activity of Gospel Logic.  He looked at his body, as good as dead Romans 4 tells us, and in spite of his sagging skin and aching joints, he believes God.  Romans 4:18 quotes from Genesis 15:5, and Paul comments, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barreness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:19-21).

Clearly, the way in which Abraham came to faith was not because of some magical experience which made him believe out of sheer serendipity.  Rather, he wrestled with the promises of God in his mind, and he cast aside doubt on the basis of God’s greater word.  Reality became God’s promise, not his own perception.  This is Gospel Logic.

Genesis 22: An Unbelievable Test of Abraham’s Belief

Later, this kind of Gospel Logic would be tested again. In Genesis 22:1, Moses records the fact that God was going to test Abraham.  In an event that baffles the modern reader, Abraham is requested to offer up his son as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah.  Without getting sidetracked on the ethics or repeatable nature of this passage (for the record: this is an inimitable request), Abraham clearly perceived God’s intention and command.

Promptly, the aged patriarch set off with his young son.  Genesis 22:3-5 records,

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

Now Moses obviously is selective in his record-keeping, but it is evident that something happened in Abraham’s mind between God’s initial command (v. 2) and Abraham’s statement to his caravan that he would return with the son whom he was intent upon killing  (v. 5). What was it?  What kind of mental process enabled Abraham to obey God, and with such confidence tell the world, that his son would live? Hebrews 11 tells us.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Thru Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered (logizomai) that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau (v. 17-19).

As in the case of Abraham’s justifying faith, Abraham’s obedience exhibited the same Gospel Logic.  Abraham knew that God’s command was irrecovable, but he also knew that the salvation of the world (i. e. blessing to the nations) was dependent on his son of promise.  Now, he did not know how these two things reconciled, but he knew that God would not overturn his promise.  Thus, he reasoned that God could raise the dead, and as Hebrews says, “figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

The Takeaway

There is an incredibly important lesson here: Christians are not called to obey based on what they see.  They are called to obey what they hear.  Today, we look not for God’s revelation through angelic visions or extra-biblical commands.  No.  But we do look to the word of God, and in God’s sufficient Scripture, we have many imperatives and wise counsel to live in a way that will call us to decisions that are based on God’s unseen promises, not our visible provisions.

This is the Christian life.  And it demands Gospel Logic.  Reasoning from God’s word unto our life circumstances in such a way, that we, like Abraham, believe that God will figuratively speaking raise us from the dead, as we daily carry our cross and die with Christ.  In this way, the gospel of Christ comes alive to us, and the world around us sees a visible display of Christ’s sufficiency for us, even in our poverty.

Abraham’s examples is a powerful one.  He helps us see what true faith is.  It is not passive in any way.  It is deeply Scriptural, and one that calls us to think deeply about God’s word, with the absolute confidence that what we think about, God will reveal to us, as his Spirit leads us by his Word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss