Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the early church fathers. Here are a few thoughts of his for your encouragement.

We are not made for ourselves alone, we are made for the good of all our fellow creatures.

I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.

That which He has not assumed He has not healed.

Worship the Trinity, which I call the only true devotion and saving doctrine.

Let us quake before the great Spirit, Who is my God, Who has made me know God, Who is God there above, and Who forms God here: almighty, imparting manifold gifts, Him Whom the holy choir hymns, Who brings life to those in heaven and on earth, and is enthroned on high, coming from the Father, the divine force, self-commandeered; He is not a Child (for there is one worthy Child of the One who is best), nor is He outside the unseen Godhead, but of identical honor.

Advertisements

Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague

Here is a must read gem from Martin Luther’s life and ministry. This entire post is taken from T.F. Lull’s book Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings.

Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague (1527)

On August 2, 1527 a case of the plague was discovered in Wittenberg. The university was closed and the students sent home, but Luther remained in the city and was busy with the pastoral and practical care of the sick. He was urged by correspondents from various places to give advice on what a Christian’s responsibility is at such a time. In November Luther finally got around to responding to a pastor in Breslau in what was published as an open letter to all.

Luther fought against the notion that faith would protect one against the plague, and he urged those who could rightly do so to leave. But some must stay, including doctors, pastors, public officials, and any person on whom an afflicted person is dependent.

Luther also shows a great deal of interest in practical reforms that could help the situation from locating cemeteries outside the town to the provision of hospitals for the care of the sick to cautious behavior on the part of those who have been exposed to the plague.

But the note that sounds most clearly is his appeal for Christians to care for the sick despite any aversion to them and fear of disease. In his typical blunt way Luther says:

This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running.…If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him….

The Remedy for Fear

If there is one thing that should strike fear in a heart it is the certainty of divine judgment and the potential of eternal punishment. In a sane person every other fear bows to this great terror. Accountability in the face of omniscience and holiness is a sobering reality.

The gospel of God is tremendous news as it drives to the heart of this deep concern. Judgment day is ripped out of the future and brought into the present when Christ goes to the cross in our stead. The cross is the courtroom. The verdict is condemnation for Jesus and righteousness for us. This is the gospel. He was our substitute. Judgement has happened.

Love motivated this saving work. It is God’s love that dispels all fear and replaces it with joyful confidence. Hear what John says about the matter in his first letter.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).

Fear is the prey of love. There is no peaceful co-existence between the two. Love attacks, fear runs. How mighty is the love of God! It assaults our fear and instills us with confidence for the day we fear most.

The love of God ensures that punishment is not in our future. His love is a static reality, it is fixed and unmoving. The cross stands as the objective reminder of God’s enduring love. Our grasp of that love, however, is often unstable and moving.

This is why John articulates the need to be “perfected” in our grasp of God’s love for us. The idea of perfection here is development, maturity or completion. As we grow into our grasp of God’s love in Christ our confidence also increases.

We must always distinguish between objective reality and our subjective experience. There is no condemnation present or future for those in Christ, judgement day has happened. That is a fixed reality, whether I feel like it or not.

I waiver in my faith. I doubt God’s promises. I question God’s love. My obedience is flawed. I do not always feel confident about judgement day. These are all part of my subjective experiences of faith. I waiver and how I feel about the gospel and judgement day moves. This does not change the settled reality, it simply speaks to my interaction with it.

The goal: move the subjective experience closer and closer to the objective reality. Confidence in coming day of judgement is an indicator that the objective and subjective are converging.

Not One Hint of Darkness

God is spirit (Jn 4:24). God is one (Deut 6:4). God is love (1 Jn 4:8 ). God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13). God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). God is merciful (Deut 4:31). God is gracious (2 Chr 30:9). God is compassionate (2 Chr 30:9). God is judge (Ps 50:6).

God is….these character affirmations are prevalent throughout Scripture. They are invitations to explore and understand the nature of our God. John provides us with an important “God is” statement in his first letter.

“God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

John could have simply stated there is no darkness in God. His addition of “at all” (οὐδεμία) makes his claim more emphatic. The double negative communicates impossibility. There is no way, not one chance, no possibility of darkness residing in the character of God…none.

If we have ever concluded from the pain, suffering, and horrors around us that there is darkness in God we have drawn the wrong conclusion. There are horrendous things happening every day on this globe, undeniable evil, unspeakable pain and sorrow. These realities cannot be denied and must be looked squarely in the face.

We have to wrestle with these things from a biblical and theological perspective, absolutely we must. Nevertheless, 1 John 1:5 remains true, God is pure light. This must inform all of our thinking about the darkness we see in the world.

In the context of John’s letter the divine luminosity has another practical purpose. John see’s the light of God as the pattern for Christian living. We are called to walk in the light as he is in the light.

The presence of sin/darkness makes the call to walk in the light synonymous with a life of repentance. We will most definitely find ourselves wandering around in the darkness as Christians, falling into sinful thoughts and behaviors. If we deny this, we are deceived.

The mark of the Christian is not the absence of darkness/sin, but the persistent push toward the light/repentance. The Christian is miserable in the darkness and refuses to stay there. No darkness at all, this is the Christian’s aim—full confession, transparency and exposure before the Creator.

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.

Justification and Equal Footing

It has been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Calvary is the great equalizer. It is the demonstration of our sin. It is the demonstration of our righteousness. There we see our condemnation and our comfort, our judgment and our justification.

The landscape of the cross never changes. Obedience and sanctification do not lift us above others. Missionaries, pastors and full-time ministers do not stand on higher ground. The Christian of 50 years is not positioned to look down on the new believer.

Peter helps us understand the common ground of the cross. In his second letter he addresses his readers: “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:1). If anyone were to have higher footing it would be the apostles. Peter dismisses the notion.

It is the righteousness of God applied to us through Christ that creates equal standing. It does not matter who we are, what we have done, what we do or who we become…all have merited condemnation and all who believe receive a righteousness outside of themselves.

Craig Blomberg understands this radical conception of grace to unravel any notion of varying rewards in the kingdom of God. He wrote an article in JETS titled, Degrees of Reward in the Kingdom of Heaven?

In the article he states, “the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ ought to liberate believers from all such performance-centered conceptions of the Christian life. An important step in that direction would be to jettison this misguided and discouraging doctrine of eternal rewards that distinguish one believer from another.”

Blomberg points to Martin Luther as a champion of such an understanding of justification. “Martin Luther often shied away from speaking of Christians even standing before God’s judgment seat, preferring instead to call it his mercy seat. It was a bar of judgment only for unbelievers.”

Blomberg points to Luther’s sermon, ‘The Sum of the Christian Life’ preached in Worlitz on November 24, 1532. As always, Luther is rich with gospel understanding and application.

“If we are ever to stand before God with a right and uncolored faith, we must come to the point where we learn clearly to distinguish between ourselves, our life, and Christ the mercy seat…. The man who can do this will be the justified man. All the others operate with a feigned faith. They talk a lot about faith but they mix things together, as a barkeeper mixes water and wine, by saying if you live in such and such a way God will be gracious to you, and they turn the mercy seat into a judgment seat and the judgment seat into a mercy seat…. Therefore, keep these two widely separated from each other, as widely as ever you can, so that neither can approach the other. See, if that is the way faith were preached, men would be justified and all the rest; a pure heart and good conscience through genuine, perfect love, would follow. For the man who through faith is sure in his heart that he has a gracious God, who is not angry with him, though he deserves wrath, that man goes out and does everything joyfully. Moreover, he can live this way before men also, loving and doing good to all, even though they are not worthy of love…. This is the highest security, the head and foundation of our salvation.”