From Personal Righteousness to Public Justice (pt. 2): Five More Truths from Psalm 101

cloud05Yesterday, I began to walk through Psalm 101, observing the ways that verses 1–4 teach us about personal righteousness. Today, we will return to that psalm in order to see what verses 5–8 tell us about public justice. As I defined it in my sermon on Psalm 101, public justice can be defined as actions that promote the well-being of others, based upon the righteousness of God. 

The two words “promote” and “based upon” are where the action is in this definition. As I explained yesterday, personal righteousness is necessary for justice to endure, thus explaining how I understand the relationship between God’s righteousness and justice. Today, I will explain what it means to promote the well-being of others. As Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (The Mission of the Church) note, there are times when the word justice, and “social justice” especially, are unhelpful. One reason is that acts of charity might be better described in terms of compassion and loving opportunities for service rather than justice and moral responsibilities to correct the world’s problems.

I agree. Yet, when defined appropriately—in terms of impartial processes and not equivalent outcomes—I do believe it is possible to speak of justice in terms of promoting the well-being of others, in the sense that justice protects the vulnerable, assists the needy, and looks for ways to improve opportunities for others to enjoy God’s blessings—especially eternal blessings.

In what follows, I will attempt to show what public justice looks like, as we consider five truths from Psalm 101. But first let me summarize all that we have discovered about God’s justice in Psalms 97–101. Continue reading

When Did the Kingdom of God Begin?

war“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.”
Psalm 103:19

32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’
Acts 13:32–33

In his excellent little study on the title ‘Son of God,’ (Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed), D. A. Carson asks the question: When did the kingdom of God begin? In typical fashion, Carson tears down any reductionistic answer and provides a vision of God’s kingdom that acknowledges the ongoing, sovereign rule of God over all creation (Ps. 103:19) and the kingdom of God that came when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth (and rose again to heaven).

Drawing on passages that cover the range of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, Carson shows how Christ inaugurated the kingdom. And it’s here where Carsons shows the polyvalent ways the Gospels speak of Christ’s kingdom. Indeed, his kingship is seen at his birth, in his life, and on the cross. Yet, it is in his resurrection and ascension where the exalted Christ “receives” his crown, if you will. While the New Testament bears witness to the forthcoming consummation of the kingdom, Christ’s service is rewarded with his crown in his resurrection (cf. Phil. 2:5–11).

Carson shows how this works and his thoughtful answer to the question of the kingdom’s beginning is worth considering and remembering as we read passages like Acts 13:32–33; Romans 1:4; and Hebrews 5:5–6, to name only a few. Here’s his answer to the question, “When did the kingdom of God begin?” Continue reading

Getting Into the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12)


Getting Into the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12)

This Sunday we started walking through the Sermon on the Mount. Considering the question of true happiness, we first looked at how we should read Jesus’ words. And then we looked at the nine statements of blessing/happiness known as the Beatitudes.

After stating that the Beatitudes are not entrance requirements for the kingdom, but words of wisdom given to Christ’s disciples who are in the kingdom, we looked at each of the beatitudes. These words of Christ are meant to comfort us and challenge us and help us walk with our Lord, for the glory of our Father in heaven.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including a sermon series on the Beatitudes, can be found below. Continue reading

Two Rivers Run Through It: Tracing Zion and Zera’ (Seed) through the Book of Isaiah

matt-lamers-328906Isaiah is massive book that displays an even larger vision of God’s glory. And because of the scale and grandeur of its message, it often seems difficult to grasp its meaning. Sure, there are those familiar verses we often return to, but how do we grasp at the whole message of Isaiah?

In what follows, I am going to trace out two key themes that may help us see the forest and not just a few trees. The first stream relates to Zion, the key place in the book. The second relates to the messiah, or the seed (zera’), the key person in the book. By holding these two streams together, I think it helps us see the arrangement of the forest so that we can climb the heights in this glorious book. Continue reading

Gone with the Wind: Malcolm Muggeridge on the Effervescence of Geo-Political Rulers

warMy best friend from high school posted this Malcolm Muggeridge quote today on his Facebook account. In light of the world’s unrest, and our need to pray for international peace, they are quite fitting. In an essay entitled “But Not of Christ,” Muggeridge writes,

We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.

I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, they could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 1): The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

sermon photoRaised with Christ (pt. 1):  The Unfolding Effects of Christ’s Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–28)

Nothing is more central to the Christian faith than Christ’s resurrection. Yet, how exactly does his resurrection secure ours? In what way is his resurrection applied to our lives? Is the promise of our resurrection just divine fiat, or is there something more that unites us to Christ? And is the resurrection only a future reality or is there something present to it?

All these questions are addressed in 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. After showing the necessity of the resurrection for the gospel (vv. 1–11) and salvation (vv. 12–19), Paul explains the (theo)logic of the resurrection in verses 20–28. Picking up concepts (firstfruits and covenant headship) and cross-references from the Psalms (110:1 and 8:6), Paul explains the way in which Christ’s death raises us to life.

This Sunday we started to unpack these verses, next week we will finish this section. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further study are below. Continue reading

What is the Kingdom of God Like?

kingdomIf there is one chapter in the Bible which best describes the kingdom of heaven (in other places, the “kingdom of God”), Matthew 13 is it.

Through seven parables, Jesus spoke to the crowds who came to see him (v. 1). In these parables, he laid out aspects of the kingdom that were both hidden and revealed, spiritual and physical, contested and certain, already and not yet. In short, by looking briefly at each parable we can get a list of the kingdom’s characteristics. Then, as we look at all the parables together, we are positioned to answer the question: What is the kingdom of God like?

What follows are five observations from individual parables (some are taken together), and two larger observations taken from the whole of Matthew 13.

The Kingdom of God Is . . .

. . . Mysterious

Perhaps it would be better to say the kingdom is hidden and revealed. For this is what mysterion means in the Bible. Beginning with Daniel 2, the word “mystery” speaks of a kingdom reality that was once hidden but now revealed. Continue reading

George Eldon Ladd on “The Kingdom and the Church”

alreadyIs the kingdom present or future? Is it now or not yet? Could it in any way be both? If so, how?

In evangelical circles this question has been answered for the last half-century with a view called “inaugurated eschatology.” This view affirms Christ’s present royal position as seated at God’s right hand, even as he rules the church by way of his Spirit (Matthew 28:20; John 16:7; Ephesians 1:21–23).  At the same time, his kingdom has not been yet consummated, and the people who have believed the good news of the kingdom await the day when he will return to establish his rule on the earth.

Among the many names who have advocated this position, few are more important than George Eldon Ladd, the late New Testament professor from Fuller Seminary. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, his books on the kingdom of God engaged Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology alike. And in each, he provided a rich biblical exposition on the subject.

Ladd maintained that the kingdom of God is found in Christ’s reign more than the location of his rule (i.e., his realm).[1] He understood the kingdom as a future reality, but one that had broken into the present. Against a view of the kingdom of God as spiritualized in the individual—a view based on a poor translation of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” KJV; rather than “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” ESV)—Ladd centered the presence of Christ’s kingdom in the church, without confusing the church with the kingdom. In this way, Ladd opposed both replacement theology and classical Dispensationalism.

Today, his works remain invaluable for students of eschatology. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with him or inaugurated eschatology are missing the best exegetical research on the kingdom of God for the last two generations. While certainly fallible—as his biography shows—his studies have been a major catalyst in evangelical theology.

In what follows is a summary of five points from a chapter entitled “The Kingdom and the Church” in his A Theology of the New Testament.[2]  Continue reading

Feet and Inches: Christ Rules Over All Things

Reintroducing George Smeaton and Abraham Kuyper

Writing on different subjects, in different language, but at roughly the same period of time, George Smeaton and Abraham Kuyper used synonymous language to describe Christ’s reign over the earth.  Yesterday we introduced them; today we will compare and combine their statements to give a more full-orbed understanding of Christ’s universal dominion.  But before doing that, let me supply their quotes again.

First, in 1871 in Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, Smeaton wrote concerning John 12:31 and Christ’s universal reign,

On the contrary, this testimony shows that every foot of ground in the world belongs to Christ, that His followers can be loyal to Him in every position, and that in every country and corner where they may placed they have to act their part for their Lord.  The world is judicially awarded to Christ as its owner and Lord (p. 300).

Ten years later, Kuyper in a speech concerning “sphere sovereignty,” Kuyper make the famous statement,

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!

Clearly, the resonance between Kuyper and Smeaton is unmistakable, but there are a number of differences in context and nuance that make it worthwhile to take up both statements as we consider Christ’s universal dominion.  Let’s consider three that develop this truth.

Feet and Inches: Smeaton and Kuyper on the Universal Reign of Christ

First, Christ Rules Over Satan and Scholars.  In Smeaton, Christ’s rule over the earth is contrasted with that of Satan.  While Satan stole possession of the earth from Adam and Eve, and ruled as the god of this age for generations; Jesus Christ came and dethroned the serpent of old.  Thus, while he still flails, Jesus is the one resting on the throne and delegating his Spirit and his Church to have dominion over the whole wide earth.

At the same time, one of the areas in which this dominion ought to occur is in the academy.  Kuyper, a brilliant theologian, author, educator, politician, and spokesman for a Reformed worldview, advocates the need for the disciplines of law, medicine, science and so forth to be undertaken not in disjunction from faith or from the reign of Christ, but rather in connect with him.  The reason?  Just as Christ reigns over Satan and in the church, so he is the creator, sustainer, and inventor of all life.  Thus, to rightly understand anything in creation demands that a person sees how that individual theory, molecule, or bacteria strain relates to the whole.  Only with Christ reigning on the throne can such a vision of research be conceived.

Second, Christ Rules Over Space and Studies.  In Smeaton, we find biblical proof of the fact that Christ died for people from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation.  At the same time, his death defeated the cosmic reign of Satan.  Therefore, every square foot has now been reclaimed, officially, by Christ, and in time all creation will be re-made and re-seeded as Christ brings the New Creation.  At the same time, Kuyper rightly sees Christ rightly seeds his world with thinkers and thoughts that benefit all of humanity.  These come not only from Christian scientists and philosophers, they are also developed by unbelievers.  Nevertheless, Christ rules over the nations and their various schools of thought in order to effect all of his purposes in the world.

One example of this would include the political theory that permitted Israel to dwell in the land of Palestine under the auspices of the Roman Empire.  While not apparent to the Romans or even the Jews, God permitted the toleration of the Roman Empire to provide a way of life in Israel that facilitated the coming of Christ (cf. Gal 4:4).  All the orchestrations and political machinations were at one level governed by various thinkers and philosophies, but at another level, God used them in order to effect his causes.  In this way, God is sovereign over the geographic nations and the way they run.  Smeaton points to the former, Kuyper more the latter.

Third, Christ Rules As Redeemer and Creator.  In Smeaton’s work, he is insistent on Christ’s atoning work.  Because of Christ’s death, he defeats Satan and redeems or reclaims the earth.  In this way, he is functioning as a Redeemer who has authority over all the earth.  For Kuyper, it seems that his sphere sovereignty is more connected with his role as creator and sustainer.  While not denying the special work of redemption, in any sort of way, he emphasizes Christ the Creator.

Truth be told, both of these things are truth and should not be set against one another.  Rather, they work in tandem and rightly relate Christ to all the earth.  As John 17:2 mentions, Jesus has authority over all flesh, but he only gives eternal life to the ones who have been given to him (i.e. the elect).

In the end, Smeaton’s statement balances Kuyper’s statement and gives added texture and depth to the beautiful reality that Christ reigns over all things.  Christ reigns over all the earth as Creator and Redeemer, as the one who has subdued Satan and who subverts scholars.  He rules space and time, measurement and rhyme.  He is God over all, and in the works of Smeaton and Kuyper, one can find an excellent pair who help us think through the way Christ governs his universe.

A Final Curiosity

Smeaton published his words before Kuyper proclaimed his.  While it would be natural for Smeaton to assimilate Kuyper’s well known words–at least well known today–it seems more odd that Kuyper would have borrowed his most famous utterance from another. And it probably is unlikely. The contexts in which the statements occurred and the provenances from which they were written, accompanied by the difference in languages, makes it unlikely that these two statements had any organic relationship.

It is more likely the case, that the allusive echo found in their statements are simply the product of two men studying the same Scriptures, influenced by the same Spirit–coincidentally, both men produced mathom works on the Holy Spirit (Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; and Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit), living under the same king whose rule is seen in Edinburgh and Amsterdam.

While Smeaton measured Christ’s reign in feet and Kupyer marked his off in inches, the reality for both of them, is that Christ rightly possess all his inheritance and is reigning over it all today.  This glorious truth bears repeating, and as often as we quote Kuyper, perhaps we should also cite Smeaton, who not only precedes the Dutch theologian and prime minister, but who also connects the universal reign to the cross of Christ.

Thoughts? If anyone does have any connections between Smeaton and Kuyper, I would love to know.  If not, it will remain an interesting coincidence, another example that there is nothing new under the Son.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Politics According to the Bible (4): A Biblical Worldview

[This is the fourth in a series of posts on Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture].

Before moving forward in his investigation of “politics according the Bible,” Grudem spends a short chapter reviewing the basics tenets of the Christian Worldview.  To most thoughtful Christians, his six points will be familiar.  Nevertheless, it is helpful to see the worldview that the Bible gives us, so that in all ethical, legal, and political decisions we are working with a biblical framework and not one of our personal development.  Our politics must be informed by the Bible, not vice versa.


(1) God Created Everything

Grudem refers to the explicit teaching of Genesis 1-2, Revelation 4:11, Psalm 19:1, and Romans 1:20, among others to assert the Biblical view that the God who made the world and everything in it, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.  While this view has been contested and even excluded from public education in America for decades, it is the clear biblical position.  Amalgamations of this view where Christian try to reconcile the Bible with evolution continue to be concocted (e.g. theistic evolution); however, such a marriage of faith and reason produces sterile offspring.  Scripture is clear: God made all things, and thus has creator rights over everything.  Biblically, man is not at liberty to govern apart from recognizing the creator.  Many attempts have been made to erect governments that deny deity, but God’s wisdom proves true, such disconnection from God will not sustain ethical living, and society suffers.

(2) The One True God Reveals Himself and His Moral Standards Clearly in the Bible

The God of creation is the God who reveals his character to his people.  In the Bible, God’s standard is seen in Genesis 2:17, when he warns Adam and Eve that disobedience results in death.  Likewise, as Grudem points out, God the creator is God the judge of all people.  He writes, “The moral standards that God reveals in the Bible are not simply moral standards for one particular church or one particular religion, but are the moral standards for which the one true God… will hold every single person accountable at the last judgment” (118).  To support his point, Grudem cites  1 Peter 4:4-5 and Acts 17:24, 30-31 which teach that the risen Christ has been given the scepter of God to rule and judge over all the earth (cf Psalm 2).

This truth impacts the way we think about politics in that the standard for any official in government is not the cultural norm or the majority view, it is the character of God and the truth of God’s Word.

(3) The Original Creation was ‘Very Good’

Not only is God’s character revealed in creation (cf. Rom 1:20) and in his word (Exodus 20:1-17), but in creation itself, the goodness of God is perceived.  In Genesis 1:31 God judges his world and declares the verdict: “It is very good.”  Moreover, God tells the man to cultivate and keep the garden and to extend its borders to fill the earth with its cultivated beauty.  Had Adam and Eve not sinned, the people of God would have proliferated, spreading the glory of God over the whole earth (cf. Hab 2:14), exercising dominion and subduing all things as they were created to do.  Thus, in a perfect world government would have existed to promote the general welfare of God’s people (82).  As we think about politics in our day, it is helpful to remember the enterprise is not intrinsically evil and anarchy and malevolent governors are a result of sin.

(4) Because Adam and Eve Sinned, There is Moral Evil (‘Sin’) in the Heart of Every Human Being

We live in a moral universe, where good and evil exist and compete.  This is true within the church, and it is true in government; and how one interprets the nature of humanity will determine how one does politics.  It is not too much to say that this singular point is the continental divide between liberals and conservatives; the former believes in the intrinsic goodness of man, while the latter recognizes the limitations and inherent evil in the heart of every human being.  Grudem writes, “This one idea, that human beings are viewed as sinful before the absolute moral standards of the one true God, has immense implications for numerous policy differences between Republicans and Democrats (as will be seen in the chapters that follow)” (119).

Thus, the Bible’s worldview concerning humanity, sin, and the evil of society, as well as the possibility for good, will significantly shape our view of politics. As Grudem points out

This biblical principle means that evil does not come merely from the influence of society on a person, and those who do evil are not merely victims of external influences that they have experienced. Certainly there are evil influences on people, and society should try to remove those influences where possible. Nevertheless, doing evil things is still a result of a person’s evil choices, and people therefore should be held accountable for the evil they do.

By contrast to this viewpoint, a secular perspective would tend to believe that human beings are basically good and therefore when they do wrong the primary reason be because something in society has harmed them and has caused them to act in wrong ways. Thus, some part of society will be mostly blamed for the wrong, and wrongdoer himself will more likely be viewed primarily as a “victim,” not a wrongdoer. This difference accounts for many political differences regarding responses to crime and to the threat of international terrorism (121).

How one understands the depravity of man effects the nature of the gospel message and also the nature of government.

(5) Because Adam and Eve Sinned, God Place a Curse on the Entire Natural World

Just as our view of humanity impacts the way we approach politics, so does our view of the entire world.  Understanding that the entire created realm–people, animals, and creation–are under God’s curse (cf. Gen 3:14-19) delimits the kind of improvements men are capable of making in this world (e.g. it urges caution when any leader promises utopian change).  Simultaneously, it recognizes that we living in a world filled with “thorns and thistles” will require that much of the governments work to promote the good, is to help citizens overcome the dangers and difficulties faced in our environment.  All the while, this kind of legislation cannot subject men to the creation, for man was created to rule the earth, not be ruled by it. This leads to Grudem’s sixth point.

(6) God Wants Human Beings to Develop the Earth’s Resources and to Use Them Wisely and Joyfully

Mankind was put on earth to cultivate it and to keep it.  Genesis 1:28 commands Adam and Eve to subdue, rule, and have dominion. This is often misunderstood and easily mishandled. Grudem explains, “these commands to subdue the earth and have dominion over it do not mean that we should use the earth in a wasteful or destructive way or intentionally treat animals with cruelty (Prov 12:10; cf. Deut 20:19-20; Matt 22:39)… We should use the resources of the earth wisely, as good stewards, not wastefully or abusively” (123).  Thus humanity is encouraged by Scripture to “beautiful homes, automobiles, airplanes, computers, and millions of other consumer goods” (123), and governments should aid in the process.

This kind of biblical mandate leads to discussions of the environment and economics, something Grudem will tackle in the ensuing chapters.


Though this chapter is brief, it is a helpful antiseptic to the views that subjugate humanity to the environment or that offer more good than can be effected through humanitarian efforts.  Though Grudem doesn’t spell it out here, the biblical worldview ultimately points us to a new age, with a new governor, and a new created order.  Only the Kingdom of Christ can satisfy all of our political longings.  Until his second advent, any political improvement is at best incomplete and temporary.  This should not deter us from working for the common good, but it should temper our utopian enthusiasm and/or our apocalyptic despair.

Despite all outward appearances, God is ruling over all the nations.  Whatever the state of the union, the state of the universe is in good hands (Psalm 115:3; 135:6).  God is using good and bad people, events, and governments to accomplish his intended purposes (Gen 50:20; Isa 46:9-11).  While we see brokeness in the world, God sees how all those pieces will be brought together in Christ (Eph 1:10); his blood will ultimately reconcile all things (Col 1:20).

We must remind ourselves of that if we are going to maintain a biblical worldview.  Otherwise, we will be tempted to put all our hopes in the next political election and candidate for change.  Political interest for the Christian is a “both-and’ kind of engagement.  We seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt 6:33) and we pray, vote, and speak in order to promote peaceful and quiet lives (1 Tim 2:1-4).

Still it must be asked:  Why do we promote such an environment?  Is it for us and for our children?  In part it is, but even more we pray and plead for justice from our governing officials so that the gospel may have freedom to deliver men and women from the dominion of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col. 1:13).  To that we must endeavor relentlessly.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss