Theology

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.

Learning From Sinful Angels

We have a lot to learn from angels. They are a model of loyalty, service, reverence, worship, holy curiosity and strength. We do well to study the Scripture to better understand these brilliant creatures we will spend eternity with.

We have a lot to learn from fallen angels. They are a model of pride, disloyalty, rebellion, deception and sin. We also do well to study Scripture to better understand the nature of sin in our own souls, the weapons of our foes and the actions that will separate one from God.

In Jude 6 we are given a window into the transgression of the angels. Check out what the brother of Jesus who became his servant says about this.

“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.”

The fall of the angels was fundamentally a rejection of their proper place before God. They had authority, they held a position of honor, they had a proper place in the presence of God—in their created nature and given vocation. They had a seat at the table.

Sin viewed from this angle is pushing outside one’s boundary. It is beliefs and actions that transgress God-given boundaries. The Creator sets the parameters of all created things. He tells the ocean, “thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed ?” (Job 38:11).

He tells the angels here is your place, here is your role, here is your authority to execute your vocation. The angelic rebellion was a rejection of the joy and freedom set by divine limitation. Rather than embracing the gift of existence and vocation they audaciously stormed the gates of heaven. Authors of the first coup the angelic host found slavery on the other side of their trespass.

Human transgression is made of the same stuff. My rebellion toward my Creator is no different. Like Adam and Eve before me I reject my creaturely limits. I reach outside my capacity and grasp for deity. I crave omnipotence. I claim omniscience. I attempt omnipresence. I determine morality.

Rather than embracing the freedom of creaturely limitation I transgress my parameters. A hardwired idolater, my heart is constantly striving to dethrone my Maker. Thank God for Jesus Christ! The only remedy for idol-ridden human beings, transgressing creatures, and trespassing image-bearers.

Remarkably God could have chosen to rescue fallen angels, but he did not. He came for us. The fall of angelic beings and their certain eternal destruction should create in us deep humility and rich gratitude. The writer of Hebrews captures this wonderful mercy.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:14-17).

Praise be to God! He helps us! Mercy is the only explanation. He provides no help to the angels, he certainly did not have to provide help to humanity. The incarnation and cross was the form his help took. To accomplish our salvation “he had to” be made like us. There was no other way.

The “elect angels” (1 Tim 5:21) who have remained in their proper positions “long to look” into these matters of salvation. Their angelic curiosity is matched by their astonishment at the Creator’s humility and grace. It is angels who set the pace for worshipping the Lamb who was slain with fierce zeal (Rev 5:11-12). We have much to learn.

Wisdom from Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer shares a nugget of wisdom in his Papers and Letters from Prison. The proper way to view other human beings is through a particular lens colored by humility, self-awareness and compassion. See what he has to see about the matter.

The man who despises another will never be able to make anything of him. Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. Why have we hitherto thought so intemperately about man and his frailty and temptability? We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. The only profitable relationship to others — and especially to our weaker brethren — is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humanity, but became man for men’s sake.

Devotional Warmth & Academic Rigor

In the book The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor, D.A. Carson provides this helpful advice on combining devotional warmth and academic rigor when approaching the Bible. He shows that the common disjunction made between these two ways of approaching Scripture is a misnomer.

Fight with every fiber of your being the common disjunction between “objective study” of Scripture and “devotional reading” of Scripture, between “critical reading” of the Bible and “devotional reading” of the Bible. The place where this tension first becomes a problem is usually at seminary. Students enter with the habit of reading the Bible “devotionally” (as they see it). They enjoy reading the Bible, they feel warm and reverent as they do so, they encounter God through its pages, some have memorized many verses and some chapters, and so forth.

Seminary soon teaches them the rudiments of Greek and Hebrew, principles of exegesis, hermeneutical reflection, something about textual variants, distinctions grounded in different literary genres, and more. In consequence, students learn to read the Bible “critically” or “objectively” for their assignments but still want to read the Bible “devotionally” in their quiet times.

Every year a handful of students end up at the door of assorted lecturers and professors asking how to handle this tension. They find themselves trying to have their devotions, only to be harassed by intruding thoughts about textual variants. How should one keep such polarized forms of reading the Bible apart? This polarization, this disjunction, kept unchecked, may then characterize or even harass the biblical scholar for the rest of his or her life. That scholar may try to write a commentary on, say, Galatians, where at least part of the aim is to master the text, while preserving time for daily devotional reading.

My response, forcefully put, is to resist this disjunction, to eschew it, to do everything in your power to destroy it. Scripture remains Scripture, it is still the Word of God before which (as Isaiah reminds us) we are to tremble—the very words we are to revere, treasure, digest, meditate on, and hide in our hearts (minds?), whether we are reading the Bible at 5:30 am at the start of a day, or preparing an assignment for an exegesis class at 10:00 pm.

If we try to keep apart these alleged two ways of reading, then we will be irritated and troubled when our “devotions” are interrupted by a sudden stray reflection about a textual variant or the precise force of a Greek genitive; alternatively, we may be taken off guard when we are supposed to be preparing a paper or a sermon and suddenly find ourselves distracted by a glimpse of God’s greatness that is supposed to be reserved for our “devotions.” So when you read “devotionally,” keep your mind engaged; when you read “critically” (i.e., with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of “tools”), never, ever, forget whose Word this is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.

All Good Men Were Once Bad

Augustine, the early church father (354-430 A.D.), was on of the most significant theologians in all of church history. In this post I have selected a number of quotes from a few different works.

“Hence it is not the case that every bad man will become good, but no one will be good who was not bad originally.”

“He that becomes protector of sin shall surely become its prisoner.”

“It is this Good which we are commanded to love with our whole heart, with our whole mind, and with all our strength. It is toward this Good that we should be led by those who love us, and toward this Good we should lead those whom we love. In this way, we fulfill the commandments on which depend the whole Law and the Prophets: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with thy whole heart, and thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind’; and ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ For, in order that a man might learn how to love himself, a standard was set to regulate all his actions on which his happiness depends. For, to love one’s own self is nothing but to wish to be happy, and the standard is union with God. When, therefore, a person who knows how to love himself is bidden to love his neighbor as himself, is he not, in effect, commanded to persuade others, as far as he can, to love God?”

“Now the Apostle, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says, “Knowledge inflates: but love edifies.” The only correct interpretation of this saying is that knowledge is valuable when charity informs it. Without charity, knowledge inflates; that is, it exalts man to an arrogance which is nothing but a kind of windy emptiness.”

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: Age and Sovereignty

Beauty and Age    

If motherhood is the death knell of beauty in our culture than aging is the funeral. Our culture is obsessed with appearing young. Since beauty is equated with a young appearance women are encouraged to do everything necessary to look that way. From a biblical perspective age has very little do to do with beauty.

Young or old, a woman who is beautiful in the eyes of the world yet lacks discretion is likened to a pig with a nose ring (Prov 11:22). External beauty is always hollow if the inner person is ugly. Youthfulness is no guarantee of beauty. Lack of discretion, however, is guaranteed to make a woman a sow.

At the ripe age of 90 Sarah was considered beautiful. Her spirit was gentle and she was clothed in submission (1 Pet 3:3-6).[1] It seems that her beauty only increased as she aged. As her physical appearance dimmed her gentle and quiet spirit only shined brighter (Gen 12:10). For it appears her submission matured with age.[2]

Since Peter is referring to her in the elderly years of her life it makes me wonder if he would have made the same assessment of her when she was younger. We can’t know for sure but we do know that he saw beauty in this older woman precisely because he viewed her with the eyes of faith rather than the lens of culture.

Men are not immune to this pressure. The pull to look young is pervasive. The Bible is not silent on this pull as it connects old age with wisdom. In fact, Scripture equates glory with aging men. Gray hair is a “crown of glory” (Prov16:31, 20:29). It is time to put to death the idea that beauty and youthful appearance are virtually synonymous.

Beauty and Sovereignty

What does the sovereignty of God have to do with beauty? A lot. Discontentment plagues the souls of men and women in our culture and in our churches. The sovereignty of God is medicine that drives away this ailment and at the same time produces peace and contentment. Mahaney once again does a great job of showing how.

“A loving God has determined what we each look like. He decided our body shape, how tall we would be, the color of our eyes, and all the unique features that make up our body type and appearance— right down to our fingers! We can either spend our lives pining about the results of God’s determination or we can receive with gratefulness His design, knowing that He does all things for His glory. David said, ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps. 139:14). When was the last time you worshiped God for the way He created your body? Anything less than a heart filled with gratitude and praise to God for our physical appearance is sinful and grieves the Lord.” [3]