The Future Orientation of Salvation in the New Testament

samuel-zeller-358865When you think of “salvation” is it a past, present, or future reality?

If we let Scripture shape our thinking and the answer we give, it is surely all three. The elect of God have been saved (past tense) when they received and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:8). At the same time, those who have been saved are also being saved (see 2 Corinthians 2:15) and one day will be saved (Romans 13:11).

This way of thinking is not uncommon in biblical Christianity. As it is often framed, Christians are saved from the penalty of sin (past), the power of sin (presence), and will be saved from presence of sin (future). Each temporal aspect is true and cannot be divided from the other, but are they of equal stress in the Bible? Does Scripture place greater prominence on one aspect of salvation above the others? I believe so.

In seminary I read the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance by Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday. In their book, they show how the New Testament emphasizes a future orientation for salvation. That is to say, while salvation is a past, present, and future reality, it is the future aspect that is most often described and discussed.

This revelation surprised me, and I bet I’m not alone. Protestants are people who like to hear testimonies of someone “got saved.” We say things like: “At youth camp, 15 teens were saved.” And we like to ask questions like: “When you were saved?” All in all, while we may know that salvation has a future orientation, that is not the emphasis most evangelistic Christians seem to put on it. And that, I believe, is a problem. Continue reading

How Justification by Faith Alone Works: Remembering the Reformation as We Enter 2018

samuel-zeller-432101.jpg8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 2:8–10 —

Few things are more important than getting the doctrine of justification right. Because we are made by God, for God’s glory, and yet find ourselves as objects of his wrath by our very nature, there is no more important question than this: “What must I do to be saved?” How one answers that question will do more to determine the course of a person’s life, not to mention eternity, than anything else.

Indeed, one’s standing before God is what the Protestant Reformation was all about. And though 2018 leaves behind the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel is as important today as at any time in history. Mass confusion remains about how one is reconciled to God—both inside the church and out. And thus it remains wise and good to learn from the Reformers about justification by faith alone and to learn how justification by faith alone is the engine to a life of good, God-pleasing works. Continue reading

Ten Looks at Christ: A New Year’s Meditation on Isaiah 61:1–3

Ten Looks at Christ: A New Year’s Meditation on Isaiah 61:1–3

Robert Murray McCheyne said famously and wisely: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Jesus.” On this last day of 2017, we spent our Sunday considering the person and work of Christ from Isaiah 61:1–3.

This sermon wraps up a three-part series on Isaiah 59–61 and encourages us to look to Christ as we enter the new year. Indeed, whether we are coming off a great 2017 or a horrible 2017, we need to remember the gospel as we enter 2018. And today’s sermon aimed to help us do that.

You can listen to the sermon here or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources can be found below. May Christ grow large in your eyes and your hear in 2018. Continue reading

Love Came Down: A Christmas Meditation on John 3:16

rawpixel-com-445786Christmas is a time filled many wild and wonderful traditions.

 

For instance, the Japanese celebrate Christmas with their favorite holiday meal—Kentucky Fried Chicken. Since 1974 KFC has been the Japanese’ Christmas meal. If you traveled to the Philippines in this season, you’d come across a festival of giant lanterns, where 11 different village compete to build the largest and most elaborate lantern.

If you go to Europe, you will find the Austrians pair Saint Nicholas with a demonic figure named Krampus. St. Nick rewards the good boys and girls; Krampus punishes the bad ones. And if you go up to Iceland, you will hear of 13 Yule Lads—13 tricksy trolls who break into homes and lick spoons, slam doors, and steal yogurt.

Here in America too, Christmas is filled with tradition. From gifts under the tree to long lines at the mall, from Santa Baby to the Trans-Siberian orchestra, our country celebrates the season with all sorts traditions that make us feel the Christmas spirit. Continue reading

The Divine Warrior Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes

samuel-zeller-364234And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob
who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.
— Isaiah 59:20 —

Wars and rumors of war.

Throughout the world right now, armies are planning and preparing for various military operations. Closer to home, domestic abuse, interpersonal strife, and political injustice continue unabated. Just this week, I learned that a man was shot and nearly killed less than a block from my house.

All that to say, we live in a violent world. And it is right, to pray for, work for, and want for something better. But it is wrong, to think that this sort of violence is new or that God is unaware.

As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun (1:9). Injustice, immorality, and bloodshed are as old as sin itself. But just as old is the promise that God redeem his people and deliver them from the curse of sin.

This was the promise in Genesis 3:15, when God said to the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” And this ancient promise is just as good today as it was 4000 years before Christ.

Indeed, if you’re familiar with the Bible, you know how strange and circuitous God’s story of salvation story is. God did not bring peace to his people in Genesis 4. Rather, he let the world go to seed—literally.

In Genesis 4, Cain killed Abel in cold blood. Theologically speaking, the seed of the serpent killed the seed of the woman. And from this first act of aggression, bloodshed has followed. Yet, in the face of this violence, God chose one people from whom he would bring a peace-maker. Often Israel, like Abel, would find themselves subjected to the serpent’s seed. But at other times, they would themselves become a brood of vipers, earning the divine wrath of God.

This is how Isaiah 59 depicts Jerusalem, when God compares their sin to that of snakes and spiders. And it is this graphic image that Paul applies to the whole world, when he quotes Isaiah 59:6–7 in Romans 3:15–18:

Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.

For us who live in the same dark world described in the Bible, we need to remember that this is the backdrop to the birth of Christ. Continue reading

The Divine Warrior in Mary’s Womb (Isaiah 59)

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The Divine Warrior in Mary’s Womb

Perhaps Isaiah 59 is not the first passage that comes to mind when you think of Christmas. A month ago, it wasn’t on my radar as a “Christmas passage,” either. However, after doing some preliminary study the armor of God in Ephesians 6, which quotes Isaiah 59:17, I soon realized how much Isaiah 59 (with the rest of Isaiah 56–66) prepares the way for Christ.

Today, we began a three-part series on Isaiah, where we considered how the promise of salvation in Isaiah 59:15–21 resolved the problem of sin in Isaiah 59:1–9. Indeed, in response to Israel’s confession and plea for mercy (Isaiah 59:9–15), Yahweh promised that he would bring salvation. And as Isaiah 59 and the rest of Isaiah foretells, this promise ultimately leads to the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem stable.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below, along with some additional resources on Isaiah and the meaning of Christmas. Continue reading

The Arm of the Lord: From Moses to Isaiah to Christ

robert-nyman-442994In the Bible, the “arm of the Lord” is a vivid image of God’s saving power. But is it more than that? In Isaiah 59:16 and 63:5, the prophet tells how God will save his people by his own arm. In context, this builds on an important theme in Isaiah 40–66. But it also amplifies the promise of the messiah. Indeed, as we study “the arm of the Lord” across the Bible, I believe we begin to see how the “arm of the Lord” leads to the Son of God, who as Hebrews 10:5 says, citing Psalm 40, has received a body prepared by God.

Indeed, by better understanding the origin, development, and goal of this phrase (“the arm of the Lord”), we will gain greater insight into God’s Word and the work he planned for Christ to accomplish—namely the salvation of a people from all nations. Even more, we learn something about how the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament are intended to direct us toward God in Christ.

So to organize our thoughts, lets consider the arm of the Lord in eight steps. Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt. 4): Walk Wisely by the Spirit of Wisdom (Ephesians 5:15–21)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 4): Walk Wisely by the Spirit of Wisdom

What is a Spirit-filled church? What does it mean to walk in the Spirit? And if you feel empty of the Spirit, what sort of ‘magic’ does it take to feel full again?

On Sunday, I sought to answer that question from Ephesians 5:15–21, as we considered the last of Paul’s instructions to walk worthy. In some ways this is the pinnacle of his instructions, going back to Ephesians 4:1. In another way, it is the hinge passage that turns from the general instructions (Ephesians 4:1–5:15) to the specific applications (Ephesians 5:15–6:9). 

In any case, there are many helpful points of applications for us Ephesians 5:15–21. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are below. Continue reading

Seeing the Grace of Christ (Better) Through the Chiasm of Mark 6:7–8:30

luke-palmer-305434Chiasms are the beeessstt!
— Nacho the Librarian —

If the name Nacho is unfamiliar, I’m not sure I can or should help. But if the word chiasm is equally enigmatic, let me encourage you to do some reading on the subject. It will pay huge dividends in your reading of Scripture.

Here’s why: Chiasms are a literary device often used by biblical authors, who seek to emphasize certain points in their writing. Because Hebrew Prophets and New Testament Apostles wrote without B, I, U on their keyboards, they had to make use of other devices to stress emphasis. And following from the repetitive nature of Scripture (see Peter Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophetsch. 3), chiasms became a regular way biblical authors made their points. On chiasms, Gentry writes,

The word chiasm comes from the letter . . . chi (X), . . .where the top half of the letter is mirrored in the bottom half. If an author an author has three topics and repeats each on twice in the pattern C B A :: C’ B’ A’, the second cycle or repetition is a mirror image of the first arrangement.

A nice example is found in Isaiah 6:10, where Yahweh explains what will happen during Isaiah’s long ministry of preaching:

Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed. (46–47)

This way of writing fills the Scriptures. And growing disciples of God’s Word must learn how to identify such structures (and how to reject fanciful literary creations of the modern interpreters that are not in Scripture). Still, more often than not, when we find repetitions in Scripture, they are there to help identify the main points of the author. Thus, rather than being some esoteric approach to Scripture, seeing the structures of the biblical authors is a necessary and vital for understanding the message of Scripture.

Thus, I share the following outline of Mark 6:7–8:30, a section of Mark’s Gospel that identifies Jesus as the Christ. By paying attention to Mark’s literary structure, I contend we can better understand who Christ is and how disciples of Christ come to know him as Lord.  Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt 2): Walking in (His) Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 2): Walking in His Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

After laying out the riches of God’s grace and glory in Ephesians 1–3, Paul turns to the way in which Christians are to walk in their new life. Five times in Ephesians 4–5 he uses the word “walk:— in light of Christ’s work of salvation, Paul calls us to walk worthy of our calling (4:1), to walk unlike Gentiles (4:17), to walk in love (5:1), to walk in light (5:8), and to walk in wisdom (5:15).

In this week’s sermon, I consider the third of these instructions, to walk in love. Based on a close reading of Ephesians, we learn that walking in love depends on knowing, delighting, and experiencing God’s love. Only as we walk in his love, can we express love to others—especially love to those who are unlovely.

You can listen to this message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading