Getting Redemption Right and Understanding the Logic of Christ’s Cross

black cross on top of mountain

Recently, I have been watching, reading, and discussing the ways that the cross of Christ has being wrongly preached, taught, and explained in churches today. In particular the penal substitutionary nature of the cross, where Christ pays the penalty for sinners who have broken God’s law and deserve his righteous and eternal condemnation, has been redefined by scholars like N.T. Wright, popular teachers like Tim Mackie (and The Bible Project), and misrepresented by pastors who have adopted their teaching and succumbed to the God-is-love-and-not-wrath narrative. And this does not even include the opponents of Christianity (e.g., Tony Jones, Bart Campolo, Richard Rorty, and others in the following video) who have simply denied the historic meaning of the cross of Christ.

Often, false teaching about the cross affirms truths that Scripture teaches. For instance, the cross does defeat the powers and principalities (Col. 2:13–15); it does display the love of God (John 3:16); it does liberate mankind from the idols and ideas of this world (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Sadly, the error comes not in what is affirmed, but what is denied—namely, that the cross propitiates the wrath of God. At its heart, Scripture teaches that a holy God cannot turn a blind eye to human sin. Therefore, mankind stands condemned in Adam and ready to receive God’s righteous judgment. This is bad news. But it is biblical and it is the ground from which the good news of Christ’s death must spring.

In the Bible, we discover that God’s gospel declares that he has satisfied his own holy standards by substituting his own Son in the place of the people who he has chosen to redeem. Sadly, many teachers deny or distort this penal substitutionary view of the cross. Some caricature God’s wrath as divine child abuse poured out on Jesus, as if Jesus is not God himself; others make the problem of humanity some form of human, political, or demonic evil; and others simply deny the holiness of God, declaring that God has absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, including letting sinners go free—no wrath needed. Space does not permit a full response here to these errant views (but see this three-part response).

Instead, I want to offer a biblical definition of redemption and Christ as the redeemer.  Again, the problem with any view that denies Christ’s penal substitution stems from a dismissal or distorted view of Scripture. Yet, when we take Scripture on its own terms, we find a holy God who has made a single way of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Explaining that redemption, Leon Morris, in The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, has helpful spelled out the nature of humanity’s need and the effect of Christ’s death. Writing about Christ the Redeemer, he says Continue reading

True Religion Consists in Holy Affections: Jonathan Edwards’ Reflections on 1 Peter 1:8

peter-lewis-D1kher2Zx2U-unsplashTrue religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.
— Jonathan Edwards —

In his classic treatise on nature of the Christian experience, Jonathan Edwards begins Religious Affections with a brief and fruitful examination of 1 Peter 1:8. As this verse stands in the middle of this Sunday’s sermon, I share the opening pages from the abridged and updated version.  As many have experienced, Edwards writing is challenging, but his vision of God is glorious. Thus, it is always worth wrestling with words. Here, however, we find in language more accessible to modern readers an explanation of the way trials purify believers and enlarge our love for Christ and our joy in Christ. The section is not long and I share it as an introduction to Edwards, Religious Affections, and some of the themes we will see on Sunday.

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him,
you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
— 1 Peter 1:8 —

With these words the apostle demonstrates the state of mind of the Christians to whom he wrote. In the two preceding verses, he speaks of their trials: *the trial of their faith*, their *being in heaviness through manifold temptations*. These trials benefit true faith in three ways.

First, above all else, trials like this have a tendency to distinguish between true faith and false, causing the difference between them to be evident. That is why in the verse immediately preceding the text, and in innumerable other places, they are called trials because they try the faith of people who profess to be Christians, just as apparent gold is tried in the fire to see whether it is true gold or not. When faith is tried this way and proved to be true, it is “found unto praise and honour and glory” (1 Pet. 1:7). Continue reading

Getting Into God’s Sovereign Grace: From Peter to the Elect Exiles to the Father, Son, and Spirit (1 Peter 1:1–2)

image001On Sunday, our church began a new series in the book of 1 Peter. Introducing the book, we focused on the salutation (1 Peter 1:1–2), two verses that introduce Peter, the elect exiles, and the triune God from whom all grace and peace come. From this short introduction we discovered a number of things about the book, its author, its setting, and the sovereign grace of God.

If you are unfamiliar with 1 Peter, it is well worth your time to study in 2021. Because, as those who are familiar with 1 Peter know, Peter’s message of living hope is tailor-made for Christians living in difficult times. For us living in a time of pan(dem)ic, political upheaval, and cultural breakdown, we need Peter’s strong words of encouragement. For the next five months, we will (as the Lord wills) focus on this encouraging book.

You can find the sermon audio. The video is below, along with these articles that might be of help after listening to the message.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting to Know God’s Foreknowledge: A Survey of the New Testament

silhouette of mountain under starry night

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout
the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
through the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.
— 1 Peter 1:1–2 NIV —

On Sunday, I preached the first message in sermon series on 1 Peter. Considering the opening salutation, we spent most of our time getting to know Peter, his audience (the elect exiles scattered in Asia Minor), and the triune God—Father, Spirit, and Son. As with many of Paul’s letters, Peter packs a robust theology into his greeting. And one phrase in particular is worth noting: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

More fully, we have Peter addressing elect exiles who are “chosen” (see 1 Peter 2:4, 9) “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” In the ESV, the distance between the addressees and the source of their election stands in relative distance, with the five regions of Asia listed in between. This matches the way that Greek reads, but it can miss how Peter is qualifying “elect exiles” with verse 2. For this reason, the NIV supplies a repetition of elect, when it says “those who are chosen.” See above.

Still, the translation of the Greek is not as difficult as understanding what “according to foreknowledge” means. Is this a tacit admission that God chooses his elect based upon their future faith (an Arminian view)? Or is it a case where God chooses his elect based upon his free and sovereign grace without any consideration of what his creatures will later do (a Calvinistic view)? Or is it something else?

However one interprets this phrase, we can acknowledge this is one of those places in the New Testament where Christians do disagree on how to understand the biblical doctrine of election and predestination. I have written on this subject (here and here), preached on it (Ephesians 1 and Titus 1), and you can find an excellent treatment on this topic in Robert Peterson’s biblical theology, Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Response.  

Still, the particular question of foreknowledge deserves a particular answer, and in what follows here, I will survey the use of the word “foreknowledge” (proginoskō) in the New Testament to see what we can learn. As we go, I will show why the best way to understand this word, and its use in 1 Peter 1:1–2, is to affirm God’s sovereign, eternal, and unconditional election of individuals to salvation. In other words, foreknowledge, as I will show below, should be understood as a word that conveys “loved beforehand” or even “loved by God before the world began.” Thus, 1 Peter 1:1–2 should be read as Peter addressing God’s elect, who were predestined in love before the foundation of the world. That’s the conclusion of the matter, now let’s consider the biblical support.  Continue reading

Redemption, Covenant, and Dwelling: Seeing the Three-Fold Pattern of Salvation in the Book of Exodus

jesus saves neon signage

Patterns are everywhere. In aviation, you have flight patterns; in economics, you have patterns in the stock market, in detective work, police look for patterns of suspicious behavior; and in sports, defensive coordinators look for patterns in the offensive schemes of opposing teams. In short, we live in a world full of patterns!

And these patterns are just one hint that behind the created order, there is a Creator who has stamped his design on creation. Similarly, in the Bible we learn that there are patterns in redemption. And nowhere is this more true than in the book of Exodus. In Exodus we are introduced to God’s pattern of redemption—substitution, conquest, covenant, and glorious dwelling. These patterns repeat again and again in Scripture, and they are so important that even Jesus says to Moses and Elijah in Luke 9:31 that he is soon going to lead his own New Exodus. So today, as we begin to look at Exodus, we do so by recognizing the pattern of salvation found therein. Continue reading

Woman, Behold Your Son . . . : A Good Friday Meditation on Jesus’s Third Saying from the Cross (John 19:26–27)

goodfriday0426 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
— John 19:26–27 —

This week our church did a series of devotions on Holy Week. You can find them here. Here’s my message on Jesus’s third saying from the cross.

Found in John 19:26–27, Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, his beloved disciple, he said, “Behold your mother.”

While this verse shows how Jesus care for his mother, it does more than that. It shows how Jesus is forming a new family from all those who will trust in him. If you trust in Christ, this is your family—a family that is created by shared faith in the crucified Christ and resurrected Lord.

On Good Friday, our good news is found in this fact: Jesus died alone on the cross, receiving in his body the wrath of God, so that we would spend eternity together with him, as children forgiven by his sacrifice. In light of our world’s current pandemic and its associated self-isolation, this news is exceedingly good. What we experience now—isolation from one another—is what Jesus came to take away for all those who trust him. Though we taste the bitterness of disease, death, and distance, Jesus is going to one day remove all of these effects of sin.

On this Good Friday, may our hearts find rest in Christ and his finished work. And may his words to Mary and John teach us how to find a place in God’s family, so that for all of eternity we will be with him and all those who love the appearing of the Son of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

The Light is Dawning on Those Whom God is Saving: 10 Things about John 3:1–21

hence-the-boom-vbQsU3kVVPI-unsplashFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
— John 3:16 —

John 3:16 is a glorious diamond, but it only one jewel in the crown of John 3.

Many times we quote, hear, and share John 3:16 without its context in John’s Gospel. This is not a bad thing. A single diamond is beautiful, but set in an engagement ring or on a king’s crown, the placement makes the diamond better. The same is true when we put John 3:16 back into the Bible and see what comes around it.

In what follows, I outline ten things about John 3:1–21 to help us better understand this whole section of John’s Gospel.

1. The flow of John 2–4 moves from light to darkness.

It is well recognized that John’s Gospel turns on the themes of light and darkness. Already in John 1:9 we heard John say, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Later, Jesus will say, “I am the light of the world” (8:12). But what about in between? Is there a theme of light dawning in chapters 2–8? I believe there is, or at least we see a progression of light in John 2–4. Consider this outline: Continue reading

Judgment Then Salvation: Seeing the Good News in Isaiah 13–27

jon-tyson-XmMsdtiGSfo-unsplashIsaiah 13–27 is perhaps the most challenging portion of Isaiah to read and understand. Yet, it plays a significant role in impressing the weight of God’s glory on the reader. Jim Hamilton has rightly argued that God’s glory is found salvation and judgment, and no book confirms that argument better than Isaiah.

Indeed, to feel the weight (N.B. In Hebrew, the word glory, kavod, comes from the word heavy, kavēd) of God’s glorious salvation, we need to come to grips with God’s holy judgment. And no part of Isaiah presses us down into God’s judgment like Isaiah 13–27. That may be one of the reasons why these chapters are difficult, but I would suggest there are others too.

In what follows I want to look at why this section is hard to understand. Then I want to show how these chapters fit together and what we can gain from them. May these reflections help us to read Isaiah and see the glory of God in his salvation and judgment. Continue reading

The Gospel of Peace: Hearing the Message of ‘Shalom’ in the Book of Isaiah

peaceIsaiah has sometimes been called ‘the fifth gospel,’ and for good reason. It is filled with good news about the salvation God will bring in Christ. And the more time we spend in the book, the more we discover themes of salvation, justice, righteousness, and peace.

On this note, we can learn much about the message of Isaiah by tracing various themes through the book (e.g., Zion/Jerusalem, kingdom, servant, etc.). Today I want to trace the theme of shalōm (peace, well-being). By keeping an eye on this theme, we can see how the whole book hangs together and how God, the maker of light and darkness, shalom and calamity (Isa. 45:7), has brought peace to a people who have rejected peace in their pursuit of wickedness.

In fact, as we will see, the way that God makes peace with rebellious sinners in Isaiah follows the contours of the gospel. Or perhaps, stated better, the gospel we come to know from the apostles finds it origins in the promise of peace in Isaiah. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

The Strength That God’s Sovereignty Supplies and the Judgment God’s Sovereignty Justifies

pexels-photo-32625610  The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11  The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
12  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
— Psalm 33:10–12 —

Throughout the book of Joshua we see the personal presence of God. In battle after battle, Yahweh fights for Israel. Through his appointed leader Joshua, God brings justice on a land whose sin has finally come to judgment (cf. Gen. 15:16), and he brings salvation to Israel, as more than 31 city-states rise to fight God’s people (Joshua 12)..

Indeed, if there is any theme that recurs in Joshua is God’s sovereignty over the affairs of the nations. As Psalm 33:10 puts it, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” Yet, God’s sovereignty does more than run roughshod over the affairs of men. His personal actions in the world actually bring to fruition the sins of the nations, which in turn demonstrates his righteousness in bringing judgment on evil. Simultaneously, his covenant promises lead his people to bold action. Rather than passively waiting for God to act, God’s actions impel his people to follow suit.

Joshua teaches us, therefore, how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility work together. In particular, we see God’s sovereignty in his judgment and salvation. And for those of us who are seeking to know God and his ways in the world, it is worth our time to consider both. In what follows, we will consider how these often confused and competing themes (God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility) work in harmony. Continue reading