Christ

Why Weakness Should Drive us Godward

Weakness, moral and otherwise has a way of pushing us away from God. It certainly does not serve as a confidence builder when approaching the holy God of the universe.

Hebrews introduces us to a different perspective, an incarnational logic. Take a look at Hebrews 4:14-16.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The call in this passage is to “hold fast our confession” and to “draw near” to God with confidence that we might know the help of grace when in need. Note what grounds  the call, what forms the foundation of this confidence.

Incredibly, it’s how God engages our weakness. The “for” and “then” of the text drive us to the central confidence giver in the face of weakness—a sympathetic Savior.

We do not have a mediator who lacks understanding, a stand-between ignorant of suffering, a high priest incapable of meeting weakness with grace. He is sympathetic (συμπαθῆσαι). This is a description of the God-man. This is the fruit of  the incarnation and cross—understanding and sympathy.

The NIGTC commentary on Hebrews states that “Christ’s earthly life gives him inner understanding of human experience, and thus makes him ready and able to give active help.”

The very thing that drives us away from God should push us toward him. Our weakness is always met by a gracious, understanding Savior who desires to provide help. He does not engage our weakness with condemnation, but kindness.

Through Christ even our weaknesses are transformed into an invitation to know his grace and mercy. They are the occasion for experiencing God’s help.

Kept by the Trinity

Assurance comes from turning our eyes away from our strength, our faithfulness and our obedience. Assurance happens to us as we focus our hearts on the activity and promises of the Triune God.

The certainty that “nothing” in the most exhaustive sense is capable of separating us from Christ’s love produces assurance (Rom 8:38-39). The promise that nothing and no one can snatch us from the hand of God creates assurance in us (John 10:28).

The book of Jude creates this assurance in us through the theme of keeping. Three times he uses the language of keeping. He bookends his entire letter with the promise that God will keep us. In the middle of the letter he calls on us to keep ourselves in God’s keeping love. Check out the three verses. 

  • “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1).
  • “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 20-21).
  • “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

A few observations on these three passages.

  1. God’s choosing and loving is connected with his keeping. He keeps those who are called and those who are loved. We cannot separate these concepts. Those he loves, he keeps. Those he calls, he keeps.
  2. His keeping work entails the certainty that we will persevere to the end and stand before him on the final day without blame. Joy will mark the moment we stand before God at our death or at his return…great joy.
  3. We are called to keep ourselves in God’s love. This self-keeping is accomplished through the means of building ourselves up in the faith, praying in the Holy Spirit and waiting for the mercy of God at his return. Building, praying and waiting…this is how we keep ourselves in the keeping love of God.
  4. The keeping work of God is a Triune endeavor. Note that we are kept by God the Father in and through Christ. We are kept by God through praying in the Holy Spirit.  We are kept as we focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are kept as we wait for the return of Jesus. All three persons are at work keeping us until the final day.

The Intention of the Cross in 1 Peter

There is nothing more intentional than the cross. It was the Triune design mapped before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28, 2 Tim 1:9, Eph 3:11). It was an eternal plan with infinite ramifications and boundless reach.

The New Testament exhausts language, metaphor and story as it strives to capture the profound glory and impact of God taking a cross for his lost world. Eternity will run out of time before we unpack the depths of God’s grace and kindness expressed toward us in the cross (Eph 2:6-7).

1 Peter speaks to a number of explicit intentions of the cross. He does not keep his talk on Calvary in the theoretical. He speaks of the cross as a ransom, a merciful tool to create a people, a penal substitution, a glorious exchange and a healing. His view of the cross is rich and varied. He moves from these atonement models to the direct implications.

Notice his language of divine intention and purpose in this four texts. Sit in these for a while and you will be encouraged.

  • “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1 :19-21).
  • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:9-10).
  • He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet 2:24-25).
  • For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Pet 3:17-18).

Remember

166 times the Bible calls us to Remember. A number that tells a story about forgetfulness, mine and yours. Remembrance is central to why we gather as believers, read and hear the Bible, baptize and participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Our memories need to be jogged, our hearts riveted again and again and our faith fed and strengthened—this happens as we preach the gospel to ourselves and one another and we recall the things of first importance.

The summons to remember is always connected to the memory of the saving work of God. The Israelites were to never forget the Exodus. We are never to forget the true Passover Lamb. The fight of faith is the battle to remember.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David” (2 Tim 2:8).

Blessed Doubters and Gospel Freedom

Helmut Thielicke was a German theologian and professor that taught and wrote during WWII. He has some very helpful things to say about the liberating intention of the gospel and the connection between grasping mercy and knowing doubt. Here are a few of his insights.

“The Christian stands, not under the dictatorship of a legalistic ‘you ought,’ but in the magnetic field of Christian Freedom, under the empowering of the ‘You may.'”

“The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to each generation, since every generation has its own unique questions. The gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of address.”

“Jesus did not identify the person with his sin, but rather saw in this sin something alien, something that really did not belong to him, something that merely chained and mastered him and from which he could free him and bring him back to his real self. Jesus was able to love men because he loved them right through the layer of mud.”

“I don’t believe that God is a fussy faultfinder in dealing with theological ideas. He who provides forgiveness for a sinful life will also surely be a generous judge of theological reflection. Even an orthodox theologian can be spiritually dead, while perhaps a heretic crawls on forbidden bypaths to the sources of life.”

“Tell me how much you know of the sufferings of your fellowmen and I will tell you how much you have loved them.”

“The doubters are always more blessed than the mere fellow travelers in faith. For they are the only ones who fully learn that their Lord is stronger than any doubt and any hell of despair.”

“What is the greatest deficiency among human Christians? They have an inadequate view of human suffering.”

Theology of Beauty in Action: Jesus

Beauty or Jesus

The rich young ruler loved his money more than anything in the world including the God who created him. We are all idolaters. Jesus comes to each one of us, points to our idol, and gives us an ultimatum. Give up your idol worship and follow me or perish in your idolatry. For the rich young ruler the call was to give up his money and possessions. We all know how the story ends. How about you? How does your story end?

Calvin once asserted that our hearts are “idol factories.” If this is the case then the idol of beauty is being produced in mass throughout our culture. For you it may be your golden calf; your replacement god that you worship with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you were in the rich young ruler’s shoes and Jesus was confronting the idol of your heart how would you respond? Would you leave all to follow him? Maybe you already have done this.

If you are a disciple of Christ it is good at times to be challenged in your loyalty and devotion. Is your answer to Jesus the same as it has been in the past? How does the story end for you? The reality is that we cannot serve God and mammon. And we cannot serve God and the idol of beauty.

If your conscience is heavy because the idolatry of beauty is something you grapple with, do not despair. Look to Christ. He is your substitute. His heart was a factory of goodness and perfection. And his perfect life has been accounted to you. He absorbed in himself the punishment for your idolatry. The result is that there is no condemnation hanging over your head as you struggle to be undivided in your loyalty to Christ.

He knows your heart and he knows the wrestling in your soul. He is a sympathetic, compassionate, and patient Savior. Fix your eyes on him whether your stride is strong or you are face down on the ground. Whether you are weak or strong, trusting or doubting, hopeful or despairing—-look to him.

The paradox in leaving behind the pursuit of beauty to follow Jesus is that you end up falling into beauty when you do. The principle of losing your life to gain it applies to beauty. By giving up an idolatrous pursuit of a certain physical appearance that is equated with beauty we come in contact with true beauty.

Our loss is always our gain. We meet beauty incarnate. By faith his beauty becomes ours. And by the Spirit he transforms us to reflect his beauty more and more. The rich man would have become truly wealthy if he would have given everything away to follow Christ. The person in pursuit of beauty does not lose it but truly finds it in Christ.

The Beauty of Jesus 

I have painted with broad strokes in attempt to capture some of the major biblical ideas that help us think well about the issue of beauty. I do not believe we have missed the forest for the trees. But I do believe a certain tree in the forest demands more of our attention. It is a tree in the forest of beauty that dwarves the rest. It is a redwood among pines, a sequoia among maples.

I have asserted that beauty is a Trinitarian reality made manifest in the person of Christ in the context of the gospel. The unveiling of Trinitarian beauty and gospel splendor intersect in God our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would know beauty we must know Christ.

Of all the application we derive from a theology of beauty, this is the most important. Strive to permeate your heart and mind with the beauty of Christ. The longing of David to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps 27:4) is a desire that can only be realized as we focus on the gospel. As we look to Christ, our deepest creaturely needs and yearnings find satisfaction.

It is in his presence and before his face that we recognize the reason for which we were created. As we gaze upon him we know liberation from our sin and our selves. As we look to him we are transformed into his likeness. As we are overwhelmed by his glory and beauty we are driven to glad obedience. Beholding the beauty of Christ would be sufficiently fulfilling in itself. But the beauty of Christ is also functional. Things happen to us as we behold him. For the Christian, beholding beauty leads to becoming beautiful.[1]

My encouragement to you is to continue building your biblical framework for beauty by focusing your study on the person and work of Christ. Let his beauty be a topic of conversation with others. Where do you see his beauty? What is his beauty like? What language is used of Jesus that is similar to beauty? In what way does he challenge the cultural perspective on beauty?

Search, explore, ask questions, make observations, think fresh thoughts—just focus your heart and mind on him. Look at his incarnation, his ministry, his cross, his resurrection, his ascension, his return, his intercession, his second coming, and his eternal rule—all with an eye to beauty.[2] The voice of God cuts through the chatter of our culture and beckons us to come, and “behold the king in his beauty” (Is 33:17). If we follow the sound of his voice, we will never be the same.

For a link to this entire series in an article/paper format: Gospel & Beauty: A Cruciform Majesty.


[1] Ibid, 46. Mahaney asserts something similar when she says: “If I keep my eyes on the One who is loveliness incarnate, I will grow more beautiful by reflecting Him.”

[2] If you want to read outside of Scripture on this theme check out John Owen, The Works of John Owen Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965). Jonathan Edwards, “The Excellency of Jesus Christ” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards Volume 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Incorporated, 2004), 680-690. This sermon can also be found online in article form. Bruce Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005). Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008). Fred Sanders & Klaus Issler, Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007). This document was authored in August, 2011.

Theology of Beauty in Action: Marriage and Motherhood

Marriage provides a unique context for beauty to be understood and seen. As we have learned, beauty is known in community. Marriage is the coming together of man and woman to form a new community. God intends for the married couple to be reflective of the Triune community and the relationship of Christ to the church.

As the couple reflects the divine nature and the loving relationship of Christ and the church they display beauty. The beauty of the wife from a biblical perspective is always connected to her relationship with her husband. Note carefully how beauty in this text is put in a relational context.

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:3-6).

Beauty is clearly tied to submission in this text. The internal beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is manifested in following the lead of the husband. The holy women of old adorned themselves “by” submission to their husbands. Submission is beautiful. Peter tells us that all physical adornment pales in comparison to this beauty. This is the beauty of character action. Submission is equated with beauty because it reflects the Triune community. Paul helps us see this connection in another place where he addresses the issue of submission. Look at this text.

“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). 

The text gives us three examples of headship and submission. Paul is establishing the appropriate order in the corporate worship setting. He does so by helping the Corinthians understand authority and submission. He uses three examples that shed light on the dynamic of submission. Most striking is the submission of Christ to God. It is fitting for humans made in the image of God to submit to one another precisely because the God they were created to reflect does so.

Headship Christ Husband God
Submission Man Wife Christ

In the Triune community there is mutual submission. The Son and the Spirit both submit to the Father. The Spirit submits to the Son. The Son submits to the Spirit. God submits to God. Perfectly equal yet submitted to one another—this is the mystery and glory of the Triune dynamic.

Submission is therefore a beautiful quality that is fundamentally God-like.[1] A posture that husband and wife are called on to demonstrate toward one another (Eph 5:21). As wives follow the lead of their husbands they reflect the splendor of the obedient Son. As women gladly walk under the authority of their head they shine forth the radiance of the self-effacing Spirit. As the husband submits his entire life in the service of his spouse, he reflects both the Son and Spirit as well. This is a beauty missed by the world. It is the beauty of God.

The beauty of submission is also intended to reflect the posture of the church before it’s Savior (Eph 5:22-24). As wives follow their husbands the light of the gospel shines out of their homes. The picture of a husband daily sacrificing himself for his bride and submitting his life to her service will point onlookers to the gospel.

This means that the beauty reflected in marriage is both a Triune beauty and a gospel beauty. Wives are called to live in relationship to their husbands and children in such a way that the doctrine of the gospel is not maligned (Tit 2:3-5). As they do this they reflect the beauty of the gospel.

From a biblical perspective rejecting submission is equivalent to rejecting beauty. If beauty is rooted in the Trinity and submission is integral to that community it follows that beauty in human existence will also have that component. This is true for both the husband and wife.

This is another area where we must combat the prevailing worldview of our culture. Submission is a dirty word in most circles especially when used in the context of marriage. We need our thinking transformed in this area. The pursuit of true beauty for a married woman will focus on God, the gospel, and the family. It is her engagement with these three areas of her life that will ultimately determine her beauty.

Beauty and the Mother

If our culture has the last word then beauty is a lost cause for the mother. Our culture asserts that after children your body is ruined and beyond beauty. It tells us that the everyday existence of a mother makes beauty impossible to attain. Your mirror time is gone because the kids will not wait for breakfast. You look and feel tired all the time. You’re so busy trying to take care of your family and hold down a job that you’re getting behind on the latest fashions.

If you are at home, the tasks of the day crowd out time for physical appearance. Doing your hair seems pointless since it is only a matter of time before your child’s food ends up in it. Our culture quips that having kids is a critical moment in the process of moving away from the cultural standard of beauty. What goes through your head as a mother when it comes to beauty? My guess is that crummy lies like these often occupy your mind. How does the evil one utilize the world’s definition of beauty in the life of a mother? He takes up the pen and writes letters, often. They normally read something like this.

Dear Mother,

I just wanted to remind you today that you are ugly. I hope you feel like a worthless piece of trash because in reality you are. You will never be beautiful just look at yourself. You might have a chance if you would just neglect those worthless children that are only getting in your way and get to the real business of looking good. Even then it is probably a lost cause. Be discouraged. I will stay in touch.  

Sincerely,

Satan

The problem is that the return address is often ignored. Though the left hand corner of the envelope reads Hell in all caps the letter is received as gospel truth. These are wretched and damaging lies. The gospel teaches that superb beauty is found in the Christian mother.[2] At the heart of motherhood is sacrifice. We have seen that sacrifice is at the heart of beauty.

The gospel enables us to recognize the marks of sacrifice on the mother’s body as marks of beauty. It helps us discern in tired eyes the endless hours of service for the sake of another. It grants us perspective to see the beauty of household tasks and holding down a job. With gospel eyes we perceive that the essence of motherhood is self-forgetting service. This revelation causes us to step back in awe of beauty. So who really embodies beauty: the model or the mother? You decide.

The truth of the gospel and beauty is something that must be embraced over and over again as a mother. The letters from the pit will not be discontinued in this life. You must become proactive. Preach the gospel to yourself. Engage with other mothers around the gospel. And take up the pen yourself and write your own letter.

Satan,

I have burned your letters. One day your lies won’t be the only thing in flames. I will have you know that you are not the only one who writes me. The letters of God tell me the truth about beauty. Beauty is found in the one true God and is manifested concretely in his son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The beauty of Jesus is seen primarily in his sacrifice for me on the cross. He has died for my ugliness and has granted me his beauty. Thank you for the reminder of my need for the gospel. I do need beauty and I have none apart from Christ. In him I am beautiful. His beauty is now mine and my ugliness has been swallowed up in him. And as I follow him and live a life of self-sacrifice for my family and my neighbor I reflect the beauty of Christ. Your letters are lies that contradict the words of God. You are a liar of the worst sort and I refuse to listen to your voice. I reject you and your definition of beauty. I know you will have a speedy response to this letter. But just know it will be wasted ink.

 Looking expectantly to Christ’s final triumph and your eternal demise,

A mother trusting the gospel


[1] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 85, 138. “It is the nature of God both to exert authority and to obey in submission. And since this is the eternal nature of God, we may know that it is beautiful and it is good…So, if we are to model our lives after the nature of God, we must learn joyfully to embrace both rightful authority and rightful submission.”

[2] Martin Luther, The Basic Theological Writings (2nd Edition), ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005). Luther wrote about the beauty of motherhood from another angle. “Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’ What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.’”