Own It

Repentance is ownership. We own our sin. We own our failure before God. We own our rebellion. We own our iniquity. We own our transgression. We agree with God, we have fallen short of his glory. We take full responsibility. Repentance was the launching point of Luther’s 95 Theses. Thesis 1: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance is a life-style, a posture, a way of being—the life of the Christian.

Faith is ownership. We grasp onto forgiveness. We hold fast to an imputed righteousness that comes to us from Christ. We trust that condemnation is no longer for us and has been settled at the cross. We lean on the certainty of a future, unending, resurrected existence. We embrace being heirs of the world. We agree with God’s verdict on us. We own his promises to us. We take our seat at the table he has prepared for us. Luther said that faith is “a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times.”

The Christian is called to own it. We own our sin. We embrace God’s provision for our sin in Christ. Repentance takes full responsibility for sin. Faith takes hold of Christ’s righteousness and trusts fully in his substitutionary work. Repentance and faith are two expressions of radical ownership.

 

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The Freedom of Being a Creature

Luther loved to speak about the great privilege of being a creature fashioned by God. The first true thing about us is that we are creatures of God. We do not determine our existence. We are fundamentally dependent. Creation establishes God as the ultimate giver and us as the ultimate receivers.

This relationship never changes—though sin would lead us to believe that these roles can be reversed. In fact, sin is an attempt to transgress the creature/creator boundary. To be a creature is to be wonderfully free. Our life is not up to us. Think for a moment on the vocation of a creature. What does it entail to be God’s image-bearing creatures? What are the benefits?

  • We receive our initial existence
  • We receive our ongoing existence
  • We depend upon him for all that we need
  • We are made to do all that he asks
  • Privilege and grace is at the core of our existence
  • We are free to be creatures and to let God be God
  • Creatureliness provides a boundary that proves to be our freedom

In the story line of Scripture, we can see the purpose and freedom of being a creature given, lost, and then restored in Christ. The fall was a giant leap upward. It was the first human attempt to transgress creaturely boundaries. The result was the fall, which left us less than the creatures God intended.

All sin is of this same nature—it is a rejection of our creatureliness. Viewing sin through this lens helps us better understand our refusal to receive from God and our incessant endeavor to become him. In our sin, we grasp at omnipotence and omniscience. We try to operate as though we are omnipresent and all wise. We interact with others as though we are sovereign and worthy of worship.

In short, our sin always betrays the fact that we are trying to be someone and something that we are not. We are trying to be God. This is idolatry. We seek to dethrone God and place ourselves in his rightful position. Such rebellion is worthy of death. In this graphic, sin would look like pushing past the boundaries of the box into the realm of the creator.

We were made with good limits. Physical exhaustion may be an attempt at omnipresence. Sinful independence and arrogance toward God could well be grasping for his self-sufficiency. Believing you call the shots and striving to control everything is attempted theft of God’s sovereignty.

Trusting your own wisdom above all others transgresses the creature boundary, it is a striving for foreknowledge and omniscience. Every aspect of the divine being becomes the battle-ground of the sinful creature. We want to wipe out God and be him. The cross of Jesus Christ says at least this much.

           Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 9.23.22 AM

The gospel is the good news of God becoming a creature to take the punishment for rebellious creatures in order to restore them back to their appropriate creatureliness. It is the most amazing story ever told. The Son reveals Creator and creature. In him, we see who God is and who we were intended to be. We behold in him a humble God who refuses to take advantage of his deity using it instead to serve humanity.

In him we see a creature that loves God, trusts God, obeys God, loves people, and goes about his daily tasks with joy and purpose. It is through his perfect life and his perfect death that our punishment is removed and we are restored. Through the justifying and cleansing work of the cross we stand in the right before the Trinity.

Through the indwelling Spirit and his mighty work, we are being remade into the creatures we were intended to be. God is in the business of making us human once again. The glory of the gospel is that it is powerful enough to make us creatures.

Through the gospel, we are liberated from our endless strivings for deity. We are relieved of thrones too large for us. We are freed from thoughts too high for us. We are released from trying to know all things and control all things.

The weight of trying to be God is lifted from our shoulders. In other words, our sin is put to death. We are free to be who we are: creatures. By the gospel, we take our rightful place as recipients. We move from subject to object. We move from standing to kneeling. We move from running to resting.

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.’”

 

Theology of Beauty in Action: Faith and Repentance

Beauty and Faith 

The problem with the world’s standard of beauty is the absence of faith. If you were to ask someone in our culture what faith has to do with beauty they would likely say nothing. We have seen that faith has everything to do with beauty. Everything we have discussed must be taken by faith. The beauty of the unseen Triune God must be received by faith.

Only eyes of faith see the beauty of the incarnate and crucified Christ. The beauty of being restored image bearers in union with Christ is a matter of faith. The beauty of our coming glorification is something we await by faith. The fact that so much of beauty is unseen requires faith. As believers we are called to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

There is a battle going on and beauty is the arena. The weapon of the enemy is falsehood and deception. He is working overtime to get us to buy in to his lies. His lies are a web that entangle us and disable us from free, selfless obedience to Christ. As the ruler of this world and the designer of this present age beauty is just one more area where the Deceiver wields influence. Our greatest weapon is faith. At the heart of this conflict is one question: whom will you trust? Understanding the Word of God is not difficult, but trusting it can be. This is why we need our faith strengthened and refreshed over and over again in this area.

Beauty and Preoccupation with Self

The world and our sin beckon us to live a life devoted to self. Beauty in our culture is one aspect of this self-worship. We are sold the lie that attaining beauty means a tremendous amount of focus upon ourselves. If we buy into the cultural view of beauty we buy into the cult of self.

We are by nature “curved in on ourselves”[1] and the cultural pursuit of beauty only feeds this inward focus. We have learned that beauty by nature is selfless. Beauty forgets itself and is preoccupied with the good of neighbor. The gospel of the beauty of God frees us from ourselves in order that we might devote ourselves to him and to neighbor (2 Cor 5:14-15, Tit 3:4-8).

In our study we have also seen that beauty stands outside of us. The Trinity teaches us this, the image of God teaches us this, the person of Christ teaches us this, the restoration of the image teaches us this, union with Christ teaches us this, and glorification teaches us this. A true preoccupation with beauty would therefore be a preoccupation with God.

As we forget ourselves and center our hearts on The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we encounter uncreated beauty. It is in this place that we receive the proper view of ourselves and an appropriate understanding of created beauty. Beauty is in the business of liberating. If our view and pursuit of beauty enslaves us to ourselves and to the opinions of others then we are deceived. Beauty is always connected to freedom, never to bondage. If we properly align our minds with the gospel of God in this area of beauty we will know this freedom.

Beauty and Repentance

We will fail often in this area of our thinking. Both men and women will be lured into believing false things about beauty. We will view things the wrong way. We will judge people with a bogus standard. We will strive with all our might to live up to the cultural yardstick. There will be days where you think of little else than the way you look or the way you think others view you. You and I will struggle with the idolatry of self until the return of Christ. This is a reality.[2] A reality, that must not drive us to despair but to repentance.

Luther said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[3] It is true, we stand in need of daily cleansing and repentance. Jesus taught us to pray for daily bread and daily forgiveness (Matt 6:11-12). As we stumble and fall let us own our sin, confess it, turn from it, and embrace the gospel afresh. The heart of repentance is a changed mind, which leads to transformation of behavior, action, and attitude.

This ongoing repentance requires learning the truth about beauty and confessing the lies we have believed about it. It requires being honest about the fact we have been idolaters in this area. In all of this we must keep before us the hope of the gospel. There is no condemnation for us as we struggle with our sinful thought patterns. No hint of judgment hangs over you as you fall and get up over and over again in this area.

Ironically, there is beauty in owning the fact that we have failed in the arena of beauty. Repentance is beautiful. Recall the link between God’s dwelling, presence and beauty. Now hear Isaiah 57:15.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

 


[1] Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 182-183. Bayer expounds on Luther’s doctrine of the ‘inward curve.’ “The human being, who can live in any sense of the word only because the Spirit of the Creator has turned toward him beforehand (Gen 2:7, Job 33:4, Ps 104:27-30), turns himself away from God and turns exclusively to himself. In contrast to the nature that God has determined for him, as an ecstatic (i.e., outward-looking) being—through faith in God, through love for one’s fellow creatures—the sinner curves back in on himself. In being curved back in on himself (incurvatio in se ipsum) he cuts his ties with life, which consists in receiving from others and giving to others. The relationship with the self, which originally involved being in harmony in the relationship with God and the world, changes now so that the self is isolated and made into an absolute. The human being, who is made by nature to respond by looking outward, ends up entrapped now in the endless downward spiral of a circle, talking to himself ceaselessly and to those who are like him, and spends his time doing nothing but being completely absorbed in his own existence in an arrogant and hybrid way. At the same time, the sinner draws his fellow creatures in, so that they have to suffer (Rom 8:18-23).”

[2] Carolyn Mahaney, “True Beauty” in Biblical Womanhood in the Home, 35. “The temptation for women to be preoccupied with their physical appearance has always existed. However, it appears that contemporary women are more driven in their pursuit of physical beauty than ever. Blitzed by the media, we are presented continuously with voices and images that define what we are to look like. In previous centuries, women might have compared themselves with the other ten women in their village; today women compare themselves with pictures of the supermodels put on display by the worldwide fashion industry. That image of beauty is so narrow in its range that most women feel unattractive in comparison.”

[3] Martin Luther, The Basic Theological Writings (2nd Edition), ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 41.

 

Gospel & Beauty: A Cruciform Majesty

“He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me a partaker of his beauty.”

Gregory of Nyssa

The cross turns the world upside down. Power is weakness, wisdom is foolishness, greatness is service, humility is glory—this is the logic of Calvary. You cannot speak of love, justice or peace apart from Good Friday. The cross defines reality. Luther was right, “the cross alone is our theology.”

Our task is to bring everything in life into gospel orbit, to create a robust dialogue between all things and the cross. As we do so our thoughts are formed and chastened. Certain ways of thinking and being are put to death while new ones are brought to life. The gospel is a gracious yet painful dialogue partner.

God will use his gospel to challenge, convict, and reshape our vision of reality. Every arena of life must be submitted to the gospel of God. The aim of the Christian is none other than to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27). God intends that the gospel shape, challenge, and rule our lives in every way.

Beauty is a captivating reality that has always been a driving and shaping force in every culture at every period in history. Our culture and time frame are no different. Whether the magazine rack, a commercial, or the latest movie we are consistently confronted with the question of beauty. It is never far from our mind or desires.

We are called to pull the theme of beauty into the gospel orbit. Even the notion of thinking biblically and theologically about beauty drives us to some very basic questions. What is your starting point for thinking about beauty? How do you define beauty? Who defines beauty? Why do we think of beauty the way we do? In what ways is your perspective on beauty driven by your culture? Do you have a theology of beauty? Where would you start? How does your view and thinking about beauty affect your every day life? How important is the issue of beauty to you?

We are all profoundly influenced by our culture. Beauty in our world is tied to a certain physical appearance. This cultural view of beauty is a standard of judgment we use to assess others and ourselves. It shapes our thoughts, actions and goals in subtle yet profound ways. Beauty is a force.

We need a biblical and theological framework for rightly thinking about such a powerful reality. I suggest three anchor points for building a cross-centered view of beauty: the beauty of God, the beauty of God’s place, and the beauty of God’s people.[1]

We will work through these themes from an Old Testament perspective and then comb back through them again in light of the gospel. As we work the themes we will explore important implications from each section. The next few blog posts will be dedicated to exploring this theme.


[1] A similar three-fold division is used by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001). He understands God’s kingdom as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. These are three significant themes of biblical theology and so happen to be important to a theology of beauty.

 

The News We Must Laugh and Be Glad Over

You have likely gathered by now that I love Martin Luther. I can’t stay away from his work because he can’t stay away from the gospel. His pastoral approach orbits around the cross and resurrection of Christ. Here is a great quote on what “good news” means and how it must make us laugh with joy.

“For ‘gospel’ [Euangelium] is a Greek word and means in Greek a good message, good tidings, good news, a good report, which one sings and tells with gladness. For example, when David overcame the great Goliath, there came among the Jewish people the good report and encouraging news that their terrible enemy had been struck down and that they had been rescued and given joy and peace; and they sang and danced and were glad for it [I Sam. 18:6]. Thus this gospel of God or New Testament is a good story and report, sounded forth into all the world by the apostles, telling of a true David who strove with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil. Without any merit of their own he made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God. For this they sing, and thank and praise God, and are glad forever, if only they believe firmly and remain steadfast in faith. This report and encouraging tidings, or evangelical and divine news, is also called a New Testament. For it is a testament when a dying man bequeaths his property, after his death, to his legally defined heirs. And Christ, before his death, commanded and ordained that his gospel be preached after his death in all the world [Luke 24:44-47]. Thereby he gave to all who believe, as their possession, everything that he had. This included: his life, in which he swallowed up death; his righteousness, by which he blotted out sin; and his salvation, with which he overcame everlasting damnation. A poor man, dead in sin and consigned to hell, can hear nothing more comforting than this precious and tender message about Christ; from the bottom of his heart he must laugh and be glad over it, if he believes it true.” (Martin Luther, Prefaces to the New Testament, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960], pp. 358-59)

What Makes a Theologian

Oswald Bayer wrote a fine book titled Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation. In this book he summarizes Luther’s thinking on what makes a theologian and what rules should govern the theologian. Luther argued that a theologian is made through six things.

  1. The grace that is worked through the Holy Spirit
  2. The agonizing struggle
  3. Experience
  4. Opportunity
  5. Constant, concentrated textual study
  6. Knowledge and practice of the academic disciplines

Luther goes on to say that three rules should govern the life and task of the theologian.

  1. Prayer
  2. Meditation
  3. Agonizing Struggle

I love the intersection of experience, suffering and study in Luther’s thought on the development of a theologian. It takes more than books and a degree to make a solid theologian. As the quote goes, “a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.”

One must know the roaring of a condemning conscience and the silencing power of the gospel to bring the good news home to others. One must know the power of the old man, the agony of daily repentance and the sweetness of forgiveness to instruct others in the fray.

The theologian has to know both sides of a theological concept: the objective and subjective. It is not enough to know about the love of God in Christ. By the Spirit he must know what it is to be loved by God in Christ. The theologian must be desperate, humble and dependent. Prayer, meditation and trust in the Holy Spirit are critical elements of theological development and maturity.

The theologian understands the tension that Luther touches here. God alone makes a good theologian and yet the theologian is responsible to study, pray, meditate and agonize. He must hoist the sails and position the mast, all the while trusting that the wind of God will blow on him.

Theologians are limping men and women—men and women who have grappled with God, have been destroyed and been made new. They are people who know the sweetness of the gospel because they know the depths of sin and judgment. They are people who know the landscape of God’s word intellectually and experientially. They are people that know God and you know it when you engage them. God, make me one of these.