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justification

April 20, 2011

The sentiment that Jesus has unconditional love for all of us has become standard fare in many evangelical churches. The speaker assures the congregation that Jesus loves them to such an extent that he died for them. He assures the audience that Jesus is just waiting for them to turn to him and to reciprocate the love he already has for them. Some people go even further in their claims to unbelievers. I remember once reading an article by Rick Warren printed in Ladies Home Journal. In this article, titled “Learn to Love Yourself!,” Warren wrote the following: “God accepts us unconditionally, and in His view we are all precious and priceless.” The article closes with these words: “You can believe what others say about you, or you can believe in yourself as God does, who says you are truly acceptable, lovable, valuable and capable.” Nowhere does he qualify these statements. Instead they are offered as blanket statements, encompassing all of humanity.

Is this how the Bible portrays God’s feelings towards those who do not believe? It’s worth a glance at just a few of the many passages that speak of God’s position towards the unregenerate.

Psalm 5:5 says that “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” The NIV translates this as “you hate all who do wrong.” Psalm 11:5 tells us that “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” And turning to the New Testament, John 3:36 reads “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” The Bible clearly portrays God as one whose wrath burns against both sin and sinner. His righteous anger burns against all unrighteousness, and against all who are unrighteous.

In The God Who Justifies, James White writes the following. “Theologians should be those enraptured by the beauty of the unchanging object of their study: the eternal, immutable God. But theologians are people, and they are influenced, to greater or lesser extents, by the society and era in which they live. The cultural decay of modern times has inspired many a theological denial of biblical truth, most often when that biblical truth speaks to something that is unfashionable. One such issue…is the oft-repeated biblical phrase ‘the wrath of God.’” White goes on to say that while we most often associate God’s wrath with the Old Testament, where he commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy the pagan nations, in reality his wrath is most clearly shown in the New Testament. Were you to ask where in the Bible we see the clearest picture of God’s wrath, I would have to point to Jesus’ final hours, from the Garden of Gethsemane to his death on the cross. After all, what but the need for satisfaction of God’s wrath, could compel the Father to send his Son to such a horrible, painful, death?

June 29, 2009

Earlier this morning I finished up Richard J. Evans’ The Third Reich at War, a very long, very thorough, very interesting tracing of the rise and fall of German military might from 1939 to 1945. More than just another account of the Second World War, this book looks to battles, but also to atrocities and to the German home front. It provides an overall perspective on the German experience of war, from the men on the front lines, to the Jews in concentration camps, to the men and women who lived in the cities and worked in the factories. It goes so far as to look at German art and music during the war. It is, in a word, thorough.

Whenever I read about Germany in the Second World War, I am amazed that so many normal people, people not unlike you and me, were involved in acts of astounding evil. While many Germans disagreed with the wholesale extermination of Jews and Gypsies and people with mental disabilities, few had the will or courage to voice their disagreements. Many were complicit in these crimes, many others were actively involved, even if they did not fully support the ideology behind them. We read of otherwise ordinary men who murdered hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of helpless people. We read of monsters who found joy in torture and mutilation. We read of doctors, sworn to protect human life, who instead took the opportunity to carry out barbarous experiments on young children, torturing them and killing them with no apparent attack of conscience. Surely Satan had a field day in Germany in those days.

As I read about these crimes, these atrocities, my heart cries out for justice. This is a natural cry, I think, and a good one. Yet so often it seems that these people got away with their crimes. Hitler, the mastermind of it all, died in 1945, but did so at his own hand. A bullet to the head hardly seems to satisfy the demands of justice based on the lives of 6 million Jews and countless millions of other lives destroyed in the war he began. It almost seems that he got away with it. Or Josef Mengele who carried out ruthless medical experiments at Auschwitz and, who after the war, escaped to South America where he lived in relative peace until he died of a stroke in 1979. Where is the justice in this? Did he get away with it?

When we read in the Bible that the law of God is written on our hearts, surely this is some of what we mean—that we have a sense of justice and that we want this sense of justice to be served, to be satisfied. We also know from Scripture that justice will be served. Indeed, it must be served. And we want it to be served. Justice is “the quality of being just or fair;” it is “judgment involved in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards and punishments.” But it is more. A Christian definition of justice goes further. Justice is the due reward or punishment for an act. God must punish evil. We know this. We tremble at this thought. Or we ought to.

God must punish evil. When we come to know Jesus Christ, we are shocked at the reality that He willingly paid the penalty for the sins of all who would believe in Him, even those who have committed unimaginable sins. When I believed in Him I saw that He suffered for me. I deserve to be punished for all those things I’ve done to forsake Him. But Jesus, through His great mercy, accepted this punishment on my behalf. Justice has been served.

But those who do not turn to Him must be punished for their own sin. And it is here that we see how justice will be served. The sin of even a man as blatantly evil as Adolph Eichmann, who relentlessly hunted down Jews throughout the Reich, differs from mine only in degree. He and I are both sinners through and through. We are both sinners in thought, word and deed. But God has seen fit to extend grace to restrain me from doing all of the evil I’d otherwise so love to do. And He has accepted Jesus’ work on the cross on my behalf. Justice has already been served on my behalf. But for those who do not turn to Christ, justice is still in the future. Justice hovers just over the horizon.

We do not look forward to the punishment of another person with a sick glee. We do not rejoice in what they must suffer. But we do look forward to the fact that justice will finally be served. God will not and cannot allow sin to be unpunished. And while we are humbled by the grace that is ours through Christ, we still thank God that there will be justice. We do not have unlimited license to sin knowing that death allows us to escape just punishment. Instead we see that death is just the beginning, just the entrance, to the courtroom where justice will be served. Death is no escape.

September 05, 2006

Tuesday September 5, 2006

Site: Things are still a little unstable around here as I attempt to upgrade the server. Please bear with me!

Bible: ESV Bible Blog has announced the “ESV Outreach New Testament,” a New Testament selling for only fifty cents.

Media: The “L.A. Times” has an interesting report on what seems to be a growing rift between Chuck Smith Jr. and Chuck Smith Sr.. “For Pastor Chuck Smith, the big issues are undebatable. For Chuck Smith Jr., also a pastor, it’s not so crystal clear. Something had to give.”

Conferences: The Directory of Reformed Conferences (link) has been updated with quite a few new conferences.

April 26, 2006

The first session features Dr. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. The message, which has the theme of “The Pastor’s Understanding of His Own Role” is titled “Three Marks of a Faithful Pastor.” It is drawn from 1 Corinthians 4 which contains a striking contrast between the real ministers of Christ and the imposters. This passage shows us three marks of a real minister.

A cross-centered message (verses 1-7) - In this passage we see the phrase “the mysteries of God.” Paul tells the Corinthians that they should not be dividing among themselves over unimportant divisions. There should be no division between ministers of that same gospel. Ministers of the gospel are the stewards of mysteries. A steward is not an owner but someone who has been entrusted with something else. A church is given to a pastor in trust.

Even Apostles were fundamentally servants, for they had no authority to spread anything other than the gospel of Christ. Pastors are called only in so far that they give God’s message to His people. It is God who owns the church and He has a message to His people. He will, through his kindness and mercy and grace, entrust that message to mere men. Mark encouraged pastors to know and understand and believe that God’s Word makes God’s people. Thus pastors are called to humbly minister to others with and through this Word. In verse two we read that the pastor must prove faithful to the charge given him. “We are not called to be original, but to be reliable,” he said. He also quoted D.A. Carson who says “What matters most in God’s universe is what God thinks of us.” Pastors must remember that they cannot please God if they live to please men.

The recurring theme of these verses is that the pastor is a steward who will be called to give an account for the message that has been entrusted to his care.

A cross-centered life (verses 8-13) - Paul turns to sarcasm in the next verses, mocking to godly effect the Corinthians’ prosperity (whether it was real or imagined). Many of them were feeling confident and fulfilled, yet regardless of how they felt, Paul pulled them back to reality and showed them that they really don’t “rank.” Paul rejects the type of “reigning” that the Corinthians advocated. He remarked on how different the Christian life is than the imposters had taught the people. Despite what the Corinthians believe and despite what so many people within evangelicalism believe, there is a better way than the wisdom of the world. Pastors must preach Christ and Him crucified. If Christ was pierced and punished and crushed and wounded, and if Paul was also scorned and rejected, how can today’s pastor expect any different if he is to be faithful to the One he serves? True ministers are happy to be despised if, somehow through this, Christ can be proclaimed. This was the experience of Paul, even as he wrote this letter to the church at Corinth.

Dever challenged pastors to inconvenience themselves in order to serve others. He taught that a pastor’s own comfort is a danger to his own soul. We all have a bias towards our own comfort and pastors need to be active in identifying and fighting against that.

Cross-centered followers (verses 14 to the end) - Pastors have a difficult time putting themselves forward as examples, but this is something they are called to do. Disciples learn from other disciples just as children live within families to learn from others. Pastors are to be examples of people who love Christ and their congregations more than they love themselves. A Christian minister should live out a Christ-like life and lead others to do the same. Paul loved the people of Corinth in such a deep, pure way and so he urged them to imitate him as children imitate a father. A pastor puts upon himself the right kind of pastor when he calls upon others to imitate him. He does a good thing when he makes himself an example of godliness. A pastor is called to teach better than he can live. A pastor can do this. But he is called to live in such a way that he illustrates the great truths that he preaches from God’s Word. The example of the pastor should be followed in the church.

Paul effectively orders the Corinthians to humble themselves. We don’t often think of humility as a duty, but it is a crucial Christian virtue. It is a confession that we are not always right but that God is! We cannot claim to be Christians if we do not have a desire to be humble. That virtue is a handmaid of all the other virtues. Of all people, pastors need to be pastors.

Paul finishes the chapter by saying that he will come to Corinth (Lord willing) and says that he will investigate these things. Paul challenges the Corinthians to ask whether these false teachers are bearing fruit—if people are being saved by their ministry. He warns that if necessary he will come with a whip of sharp, devastating reproof. Paul shows that a congregation is a proof of a pastor’s ministry. There is a certain necessity of Christian church growth; not necessarily numerical growth but spiritual growth. God has left us a visible representation of Himself in His church, in each congregation He has called pastors to serve. We will see more of the image of Jesus in the local church than we ever could in a picture of His likeness.

What Paul is saying is what we need to hear. The important issue of recovering churches is putting the Word at the center and this happens most notably through preaching. The men who will speak this week are men who are bold in challenging men to grow in Christ. They are men who have placed preaching at the center of their ministries.

Dever concluded with an exhortation to watch for false teachers in our day—teachers who proclaim a worldly message that removes the cross as the center of the church. These men masquerade as sheep while all the while sowing a deadly seed through the body of Christ.

Following this session, Bob Kauflin led us in singing “There Is A Fountain.”

June 27, 2004

J.A. Wylie was a pastor and author who lived in the nineteenth century whose greatest work is the three volume masterpiece “The History of Protestantism.” The first book spends a small amount of time examining early Christian history and how the purity of the original church gave way to the corruption of the Catholic system. Wylie says “This change [making God less free in His gift of salvation] brought a multitude of others in its train. Worship being transformed into sacrifice – sacrifice in which was the element of expiation and purification – the “teaching ministry” was of course converted into a “sacrificing priesthood.” When this had been done, there was no retreating; a boundary had been reaching which could not be recrossed until centuries had rolled away, and transformations of a more portentous kind than any which had yet taken place had passed upon the Church.” (Volume 1, Chapter 2, page 8).

In short, Wylie believed that the downfall of the church began with assigning too much power to the clergy. When the office of pastor changed from a teaching office to a mystical, sacrificing priesthood, the clergy gained too much power and immediately passed the point of no return. It would take hundreds of years and a world-changing event for the Church to regain the original beauty of the office of pastor.

After the Protestant Reformation, the Protestant clergy no longer held the mystical power of converting a simple piece of bread to the body of Christ and they no longer had the power to forgive sins. The primary role of the minister of the Word was to exposit the Word of God to the people. It was an office of honor and respect. The title “reverend” was often used to convey respect to those men who had the awesome privilege and responsibility of preaching God’s Word.

As the Protestant church has changed and evolved since the time of the Reformation, so has the office of pastor. Where in times past the minister wore a robe, collar or both to differentiate himself from the laity, it seems that today the pastor is often the person wearing shorts and sandals. Where a pastor once wore clothing that conveyed dignity and displayed the uniqueness of the pastoral ministry, today the pastor often tries to be the most unnoticeable person in the church. Where the term “pastor” was once largely reserved for the minister who led his flock, today we have pastors of every type – music pastors, counseling pastors, administrative pastors, and even lay pastors (which seems to be a contradiction in terms). Where pastors and office-bearers once held the keys to the kingdom and had the privilege of administering the sacraments, today the laity is permitted and even encouraged to do this themselves.

I sometimes wonder if we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. I wonder if we’ve reduced the office of the minister of the Word to such an extent that it no longer carries with it the respect and uniqueness that God intended. Surely pastors are called to a high office and are blessed with unique privileges and responsibilities. When we take those privileges and dispense them liberally throughout the Church, I wonder if we are elevating the role of the laity or reducing the role of the clergy. Either way, I suspect we are not honoring God or the special role He created for the minister of His Word.