Gospel Strength

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

In one sentence Paul pulls back the curtain on the link between strength and the gospel (2 Tim 2:1). What can we learn from Paul’s words to Timothy?

  • The source of strength in this text is grace. Paul affirms here that the journey of the Christian is by “grace alone.” In other places, Paul asserts that we are “saved by grace” (Eph 2-8-10). Here he shows us that we are “strengthened by grace.” The journey begins and continues by grace.
  • The grace that Paul speaks of is that which is located in Christ Jesus. Here he pushes us toward a gospel-centered understanding of strength. The grace of God is found in the message of the incarnate, crucified, risen and exalted Lord. As we press into the gospel of our salvation, meditate on it, study it, internalize it, speak it to one another, trust it and allow it to permeate our hearts and minds we are strengthened.
  • The word translated “be strengthened” is the present passive imperative form of a verb that is concerned with being strong (ἐνδυναμοῦ). Paul commands Timothy toward strength and yet, Timothy’s role is passive. Strength is required of us, it is a command. Strength comes to us, it is a gift. Timothy is called upon here to unfurl the sails of faith and position himself to catch gospel wind. The call here is to strategically position ourselves to be reminded of the gospel of God. We are to put ourselves in situations where reading, hearing, speaking and believing the gospel is sure to happen.
  • Strength comes from the gospel. Weakness must also be gauged by the gospel. Proximity to the gospel determines both strength and weakness. Full battery on a cell phone indicates recent close proximity to its power source, just as low battery indicates distance from its power source. Paul is helping us grasp that weakness is no mystery in the Christian journey. When we are far from the gospel we will certainly be weak. When we are near the gospel we will certainly be strengthened.

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.

 

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Church

The presence of the church in the world is intended to be a tremendous source of encouragement. It is for encouragement that we gather and it is encouragement that we are called to bring to the world.

The book of Hebrews tells us that encouragement is an important means of safeguarding one another and developing perseverance in the faith.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).

Daily encouragement is the remedy for the slippery slope of unbelief, hardness of heart and falling away from God. This slope is a reality for everyone one of us. I cannot count the number of times I have come to church on a Sunday morning with a rock for a heart. I have felt the slippery slope—the slide into unbelief and callousness. I have also felt the softening touch of God’s Spirit as brothers and sisters encourage me. We need each other. Encouragement is designed to smashScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM the rock heart that can so easily overtake us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says to “encourage the fainthearted.” The word translated fainthearted means “little souled.” The idea is that our circumstances, pain, suffering and discouragements can deflate us, they can press in on us to such a degree that our capacity for hope dwindles.

Encouragement infuses hope into our hearts, it expands the walls of our soul again. It increases our capacity for hope once again. When we gather, when we encourage one another, when we communicate the gospel promises to each other again and again—this is what happens.

We need each other. This life of faith thing is a community endeavor.

 

Round 1: Why Does God’s Indwelling Presence Matter?

I have spent the last two months posting on the grace of God provided to us through indwelling. Indwelling being that merciful commitment of the Father and Son to send the Holy Spirit to take up residence within those who trust the gospel. Indwelling is the stunning reality that God the Trinity lives within us and refuses to ever leave us. We have explored a number of texts in the New and Old Testaments that communicate this peculiar doctrine.

In this final post on the theme I want to draw together various strands and explore the important implications of this biblical truth. I want to answer the question, “so what?” What does it matter? How does it impact us? As we grasp what this truth really means for us we will find that God is communicating rich things to us and providing a wealth of spiritual resource. Since there is so much here I will break the implications into two posts.

I have chosen the language of “must” because I believe that the grace of God in such a doctrine is capturing and compelling. When we are moved we move.

  • Our understanding of the presence of God must be impacted. God’s immediate presence throughout the biblical storyline was connected to the garden, tabernacle, temple, Christ, the church, and individual believers. The new covenant signals a shift in experiencing the immediate presence of God, from external to internal, temporary to permanent. The incarnation was God’s strong way of saying, “I am with you.” Indwelling is his affirmation, “I am in you.” Could God get closer? God’s nearness is now a static reality, the Spirit is no renter. He is here to stay. We have been purchased and our name now serves a divine address. His presence is a reality from morning to night, in all our conversations, while we work, when we play, in our sin, in our joy, in our faith, in our doubt, he is always with and in us. When we grapple with the question that we all do, “where are you God?” the doctrine of indwelling needs a voice.
  • Our appreciation of the cross and resurrection must grow. The coming of the Holy Spirit was inseparable from the new covenant. The new covenant was God’s promise of transformation, forgiveness, and his permanent presence. This covenant was enacted through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gift of indwelling was purchased by the blood of Christ. Without the cross indwelling would not and could not happen. Indwelling then is another wonderful dimension of God’s love and kindness flowing from his cross. The empty tomb is no different. Only a victorious, reigning King could commission the Spirit to complete the work he began on the earth. When we worship God for the kindness of residing in us we must never forget that the cross and resurrection made this promise a reality.
  • Our worship of the Triune God must be heightened. Indwelling is not solely the work of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament indicates that he takes the lead in this work, but he is not alone. God the Father and God the Son are said to join the spirit in this new residential endeavor. This makes sense theologically when we consider the absolute unity of the Trinity while holding in tension the distinction of persons. Consider the tremendous humility of God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Not only does God humbly create us and graciously redeem us, he comes to live within us! Leaving the throne room of heaven he makes a residence of us. Consider the tremendous passion of God in his love for us, his commitment to change us, his willingness to be present with us! The doctrine of indwelling is fuel on the fire of intelligent and passionate worship. How could it be any other way?

In our next post we will conclude our focus on the indwelling of the Spirit as we explore some further implications. Let me know your thoughts….are there other important implications of this truth that you would suggest?

Divine Deliberation and the Creation of Man

Genesis 1:26

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'”

Luther’s Commentary
“Moses is here celebrating the formation of man as having been wrought by a peculiar design and contrivance of the mind of God; my own opinion is that all the other animals of the earth stood forth created in a moment, as the fishes were made on a sudden in the sea…let us now approach the last and most glorious work of God: the creation of man! God says, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ Here again Moses adopts a new phraseology. The divine expression is not in this place, ‘Let the sea be moved,’ or ‘Let the earth bring forth grass’ or ‘fruits.’ But the remarkable Word of God here is, ‘Let us make, or form, or fashion, or fabricate man.’ Wherefore this expression implies manifest deliberation and counsel; the like of which is found not in the creation of any former creatures. In those cases God says simply without any deliberation, counsel or particular design of mind, ‘Let the sea be moved;’ ‘Let the earth bring forth,’ etc. But here where God wills to create man, he turns himself as it were to deep thought and enters into profound counsel and deliberation…All three Persons here concur and speak unitedly when they say, “Let us make.” For neither does the Father make any other man than the Son makes; nor does the Son make any other man than the Holy Ghost makes. But the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the one same God, are the one same author of the one same work and are the one same creator.”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 2090-2095, 2103-2104, 2170-2172).

God said, God made, God saw

Genesis 1:20-21

“And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”

Luther’s Commentary
“We must here touch upon that which has arrested the attention of the holy fathers, and especially of Augustine; that Moses in this sacred narrative uses these three expressions in reference to God, ‘God said;’ ‘God made;’ and ‘God saw;’ as if God designed by these three expressions, used by His servant Moses, to set forth the three persons of the divine majesty! Thus by the expression ‘said’ is signified Father. The Father begat the Word from all eternity; and by this same Word he made in time this world. And these holy fathers applied the expression, ‘God made’ to the person of the Son; for the Son has in himself the ‘express image’ of the person of the Father; not only of his majesty, but of his power by which he created all things. Hence the Son gives to all things their existence. And as by the Father things are spoken into being, so are they also by the Son or the Word of the Father, by whom ‘all things subsist.’ And to these two persons is also added a third; the person of the Holy Spirit, who ‘sees’ and approves all things which are created. These three expressions therefore, ‘said,’ ‘made,’ ‘saw,’ are spoken by Moses in a beautiful and appropriate manner as attributive of the three divine persons; that we might by these three expressions the more distinctly understand that great article of faith, the Holy Trinity.” 
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 1946-1961).

Chicken Eggs, Fish Ponds and the Omnipotent Word

Genesis 1:22

“And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.'”

Luther’s Commentary
“What then is the cause of this wonderful and admirable generation or propagation? The hen lays an egg; she cherishes it until a living body is formed in the egg, which at length the hen hatches. Philosophers allege the cause of all this to be the operation of the sun and the heat of the hen’s body. I fully grant all this. But divines speak much nearer the truth, when they affirm that the whole generative process takes place by the effective operation of the Word, here spoken by God, ‘And God blessed them; and said, be fruitful and multiply.’ This Word of God’s blessing is present in the very body of the hen and of all living creatures; and the heat by which the hen cherishes the egg is essentially and effectively the heat of the Word of God; for without this Word the heat of the sun or of the body would be utterly ineffectual and useless…the blessing of God carries with it actual fruitfulness and multiplication. It is at once effectual. On the contrary the divine curse is non-multiplication and diminution. And the curse is also at once effectual.”
 
“Thus have we then a sight of the living bodies created on the fifth day. And we have seen that the Word of God, spoken on this day, is still effectual; for fishes are still generated from mere and very water. Hence fish-ponds and lakes still generate fishes. Minnows are generated in fish-ponds, in which there were none before. For I see no likelihood of truth in the trifling arguments of some, who will have it that fishes caught by birds, drop their seed into fish-ponds and lakes, while they are being borne along in the air by their feathered captors; and that such dropped fish-seed afterwards increases and furnishes the ponds. I believe therefore the true and sole cause of all this generation and multiplication of fishes, to be God’s commanding Word to the water on the fifth day of his creation work to bring forth fishes. I believe that this divine Word is still effectual; and that it still works all these things!”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 2035-2047, 2059-2065).

The Trout’s Sermon

Genesis 1:20

“And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.'”

Luther’s Commentary
“Here again is a further proof of the divine authority and majesty of this book, in that it sets before us under such various forms that power of God by which he created all things, beyond the conception of all reason and understanding. Who for instance could ever have thought, that out of water a nature could be produced, which should by no means endure water? But the Word of God speaks, and in a moment out of water are created birds. If therefore the Word of God but sound, all things are immediately possible; and out of the same water shall be formed either fishes or birds. Every bird therefore and every fish is nothing more or less than a word of divine grammar or language; by which grammar all things, otherwise impossible, immediately become possible and easy.”
 
“These divine things are thus written and ought to be diligently observed, studied and known by us, that we might learn to admire and adore the power of the Divine Majesty; and that we might edify and strengthen our faith from all these marvellous creation works of God! For if one could raise the dead it would be nothing in comparison to this wonderful work; that a bird was created in a moment out of water! But the reason we do not day by day and continually wonder at these things, is because by our having seen them always before us, they have lost their wonder in our eyes. If however one does but believe these things, he is compelled at once to wonder at them. And that wonder gradually confirms his faith.”
 
“For if God can form a mass of water, call forth and create the heaven and its stars, each one of which equals or exceeds the earth itself in magnitude; if God can, from a small drop of water, create the sun and the moon, can he not defend my poor body against all enemies and against Satan himself? Can he not after that poor body is laid in the tomb raise it again to another and a new life? Wherefore we are to learn from this book of Genesis the power of God; that we may accustom ourselves to doubt nothing that God promises in his Word! For, in this glorious and marvellous creation work is laid a confirmation of our faith in all the promises of God; that there is nothing so difficult, nothing so impossible, which God cannot do and perfect by his Word. For all this is here proved by God’s creation of the heaven, earth, sea and all that is in them.”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 1926-1945).
 

Seeds, Plants, Trees, and the Love of God

Genesis 1:11

“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so.”

Luther’s Commentary
“This peculiar care of God over us and for us even before we were created, may be contemplated rightly and with great benefit to our souls, but all conjectures, reasonings and arguments upon the great subject of the creation are uncertain and fruitless. The same care for us is manifest in his spiritual gifts. For long before we are converted to faith Christ, our Redeemer, rose and ascended above, and is now in the house of his Father preparing mansions for us; that when we arrive there we may find heaven furnished with everything that can complete our joy. Adam therefore not yet created was much less able to think of his future good than even we are, for he as yet had no existence at all. Whereas we continually hear all these things from the Word of God, as promised to us. Let us look at this first creation of the world therefore as a type and figure of the world to come, and thereby let us learn the exceeding goodness of God, who thus benefits, blesses and enriches us, even before we are capable of thinking for ourselves. This solicitude, care, liberality and beneficence of God, both for our present and future life, are matters more becoming us to contemplate and admire than it is to enter upon speculations and conjectures as to the reason why God began to ornament the earth on the third day. Let these observations suffice concerning the work of the third day in which a house was built and furnished for man.”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 1699-1709).

Life: One Big Journey through the Red Sea

Genesis 1:9

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.”

Luther’s Commentary
“Job, the 38th chapter, and the 104th Psalm bear witness that, although the sea is higher than the earth and is limited by no boundaries of its own, yet it cannot pass its boundaries appointed of God. For the earth, being the center of the world, would naturally be submerged and covered with the sea. But God keeps back the sea by his Word and thus makes the plane of the earth stand forth out of the waters. Hence it is by the power of God that the waters are prevented from rushing in upon us. God therefore performs for us to this day and will do so to the end of the world, the same miracle which he wrought for the children of Israel in the Red Sea, Ex. 14:21-22. But he made a special manifestation of his power by working the mighty miracle on that occasion, to the intent that he might bind that people, who were few in number, the more devotedly to his worship. And what else is this our life upon earth, but a passage through the Red Sea, where the high and threatening walls of water stand up on each side of us? For it is most certainly true that the sea is much higher than the earth. God therefore to this day commands the waters to hang suspended and holds them up by his Word that they may not break in upon us, as they burst in upon the world at the deluge. Sometimes however signs of God’s power are still manifested, whole islands perish under the waters, whereby God shows that the mighty water is still in his hands, and that it is with Him either to hold it fast or to let it rush in upon the wicked and the ungrateful.”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 1595-1598).