The Considerate God

Working through the gospel of Mark I have been consistently moved by the way Jesus interacts with people. As the God-man he perfectly manifests true humanity and true deity. In Jesus we behold God. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19).

God is thoroughly considerate in his engagement with humanity. He listens to people, shares a meal with anyone, touches people with frightening diseases, generously gives his time, heals the blind, the paralyzed and the sick, cares about people’s pain and questions, and grieves over the suffering of others.

On two occasions Jesus feeds thousands of hungry people by miraculously multiplying loaves and fish. He cares for the physical needs of people. On one occasion Jesus miraculously raises a twelve year old child from the dead. The surrounding story of this miracle reveals a deeply considerate God (Mk 5:21-43).

In the narrative Jesus listens with concern to the fear and desperation of the parents. He responds to their heartfelt requests with care and action. He speaks words of comfort to them. He speaks life into the lifeless child. Everyone is astonished and overwhelmed.

I was struck by the dialogue that follows the miracle. “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat” (Mk 5:43). Sustenance was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, they had just observed a lifeless girl sit up! But it was on the mind of God. Jesus gave her life back and then made sure she had something to eat. I love this picture of God, so considerate, so kind, so practical.

Round 2: Why does God’s Indwelling Presence Matter?

We explored some of the implications of indwelling in the past post. We talked about reframing our discussions and thinking on the presence of God, increasing our appreciation for the cross and resurrection, and heigtening our worship of the Triune God. This post concludes our work together on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I have chosen a few more important implications to consider. Here we go!

  • Our thoughts on belonging and assurance must be deepened. The theme of belonging runs through this doctrine like a thread. The New Testament repeatedly makes the connection between God’s residence in us and his ownership of us. God is deeply interested in giving his people assurance and confidence in their status before him. This status has objective and subjective dimensions. Through the cross-work of Christ we are justified and declared righteous through Christ. Through Christ the Father views us as blameless, perfect, and sinless. This is an objective reality that we believe by faith. Faith stumbles on this truth because our subjective experience is not yet consistent with our position before God. This is where the Holy Spirit comes into the picture. The New Testament helps us understand that the Holy Spirit translates objective truths into subjective experience. In other words, through the cross we are guaranteed forgiveness and righteousness, the Spirit helps us experience the love of God behind this and the certainty of the grace he has given us there. By indwelling us the Spirit is a constant companion working into our hearts confidence, assurance, hope, and helping us hold fast to the truth that we are sons and daughters of God. He helps us feel and know what is true.
  • Our dependence on the Spirit in gospel ministry must mature. The Indwelling Spirit requires a reframing of how we think about and do ministry. The New Testament made plain that doctrinal faithfulness, empowerment and moral integrity are grounded in the Spirit who lives in us. Cultivating this understanding leads to a quiet trust and more precise dependence on God the Spirit. For example, times of study, prayer, writing, preaching, counseling, and conversation can be engaged with a posture of reliance and listening. The acknowledgment that God is close and present to support gospel advancement and ministry changes everything. This awareness, designated as “keeping in step with the Spirit” (Eph 5:25), is a tremendous encouragement for those called to be ambassador’s for Christ in any ministry context. Consistently recognizing and verbalizing dependence to the Holy Spirit along with expressing gratitude is one way we grow and mature in ministry.
  • Our hope and certainty in the future must be strengthened. The power of the Holy Spirit residing in us is highlighted when we look at our promised future. The New Testament is clear, resurrection awaits. This is our hope. As Graeme Goldsworthy would say, our resurrection is “future history.” It is certain. The doctrine of indwelling is an anchor of the soul as we consider this hope. The Spirit is responsible for living in Christ and raising him from the dead. He is responsible for creating life out of nothing, for breathing that creative breath on the Son that enabled him to walk out of the tomb the third day. This same Spirit now dwells in us and guarantees that he will bring life to our mortal bodies and that death will not have the final word. Resurrection is coming and the Holy Spirit is responsible for making it happen. There are many uncertainties when it comes to the future, but the most important things are not up for grabs when the Holy Spirit resides in us.

These are just a few of the important implications of the doctrine of indwelling. I am convinced there are many more worth our time and consideration. Take for example the concept of humility. Indwelling is a rich resource for thinking through what humility looks like. Or we could look at transformation. Indwelling would force us to consider interesting dimensions of both the passive and active dynamics of change. Or we could explore the language of grieving or quenching the Spirit in connection with indwelling, would this change how we view our sin? There is much more here, I encourage you to explore and think deeply about this tremendous gift!

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?

After Darkness, Light: The Gospel in Poem

I have spent the last few days thinking and thinking on the theme of God breaking through darkness with light. We see this thought woven throughout Scripture and finding ultimate expression in the gospel. Here is a poem that attempts to capture the gospel angle on light conquering darkness.

Dead Men Don’t Change People

The resurrection of Christ was the prelude to his ascension. The same Jesus that lived on this earth in bodily form was raised from the grave. This same embodied God-man was taken up into heaven before many eyewitnesses (Acts 1:11). Scripture teaches many things about the current activity of Jesus.

He is alive, well, and  seated at the right hand of God where he rules all things with the Father (Heb 8:1). He prays for us, intercedes on our behalf, sympathizes with our weaknesses, and stands in heaven as our eternal mediator (Heb 4:14-16, Rom 8:34, Heb 9:15).

His heavenly reign consists of executing the new covenant benefits that were secured by his death (Heb 9:15). He labors to build the church for which he died (Matt 16:18). He is at work to extend the kingdom of his Father throughout the earth (1 Cor 15:22-28). He is the sender of the Holy Spirit, who is on his new covenant mission (Acts 2:33-36). He is in constant communication with him to direct and guide his labors (Jn 16:13-15).

He walks among the church and provides for all her needs (Rev 1:20, 2:1, Eph 5:29-31). He protects us from the accusations of Satan in the heavenly courts (Rev 12:10-11). He advocates for us and exists as our righteousness before the Father when we die and face judgment (Rom 8:31-34, Heb 9:27) . He is extremely busy in his service toward us!

Athanasius argued that the present activity of the Lord Jesus Christ was further proof of his mighty resurrection. It is without doubt that Jesus is alive and well. All you have to do is look around at his activity in the world. He is transforming people and gathering his church. Here is a word from Athanasius—a man who rejoiced in the resurrection hundreds of years ago while on this earth and rejoices with the resurrected Christ now.

“He, the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those other His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognised as finally annulled. A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat…Dead men cannot take effective action; their power of influence on others lasts only till the grave. Deeds and actions that energise others belong only to the living. Well, then, look at the facts in this case. The Saviour is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man move the consciences of men…?”

Gospel and Ground

All themes in the Bible connect to the gospel. Since the last few posts have been on the ground, it is worth asking the question: how does the ground relate to the gospel? The gospel is the good news of God becoming man, dying our death, and conquering the grave—all to rescue us from the threat of condemnation. The gospel encompasses the entire career of the Lord Jesus. The life and work of Jesus overlaps with the theme of the ground at a few key junctures. These junctures can be grouped into three themes.

The Gospel Affirms our Creatureliness

Being created from the dust links us inviolably to the earth. God fashioned us to live here and he placed his stamp of approval upon our earthly existence (Gen 1:31).  The incarnation is a further affirmation that our creatureliness is good. God becomes a creature. The one from above assumes an existence from below. The one who makes men from dirt becomes a man of the dirt. The simple fact that God comes as one of us communicates volumes.
The resurrection is yet another affirmation of God’s high opinion of the way he fashioned human beings. Jesus is the first man to be raised from the dust of the ground. He alone has taken the journey through death to a perfected human life. Resurrection is about restoring our humanity. It is about remaking us into the earthly creatures of his original intention.  
The Gospel Restores our Creatureliness 

 The sin of Adam is properly defined as a transgression of creaturely boundaries. Adam grasped for divinity. He reached for knowledge and abilities that were beyond his human capacity. It is sin to reject what you are and reach for what you cannot be. Gerhard Forde does a brilliant job of explaining the connection between our creatureliness and the gospel. The following excerpts are from his book, Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down To-Earth Approach To The Gospel.
“The temptation is for man to refuse his creaturehood, to refuse his humanity, to refuse to take care of the earth and to become a god…the fundamental point to begin with, is that man is man and not God. Man is a creature and is to remain a creature. If he attempts to step beyond the limits of his creaturehood, as did Adam, he commits the prime sin…the fall of man is therefore a fall from faith. What happens is that man succumbs to the temptation to overreach himself. He denies his creaturehood and his humanity and attempts to take up the mantle of God.”
“The purpose of the cross is not to pay a debt which man owes for not making it to heaven, not to assist man in his aspirations toward some kind of religious perfectionism. The purpose of the cross is to create that faith which man has lost, that faith that enables him to live as a creature on this earth. The cross and resurrection therefore is that power which makes new creatures; it makes anew the kind of person intended for this earth.
 “The gospel is strong enough to make and to keep us human, to enable us to live as we were intended to live–as creatures of God…grace is the power of God revealed in Christ which destroys the unnatural, destroys man’s refusal to be natural. Grace thus makes nature what it was intended to be. In that sense grace perfects nature–not because it adds what was lacking, but precisely because it makes nature to be nature once again. The grace of God is a power strong enough to make and keep us human. It does this because it makes us give up our attempts to be gods, our attempts to control our own fate and enables us to wait as creatures of this earth in faith and hope for what God has in mind in the future.”
The Gospel Restores the Earth

The gospel is about renewal. The envisioned restoration is cosmic in scope. The death of Christ was accompanied by a quaking earth (Matt 27:51). On his brow was a crown of thorns, a symbol of the curse of the ground (Matt 27:29). He did not just come for the creatures of the ground, but the ground itself. He came to restore the entire world he had fashioned in the beginning. His coming was a response to the groaning earth (Rom 8:22-28). His death and resurrection touched the outermost parts of the universe.  
His saving work accomplishes a universal reconciliation (Col 1:19-20). The new heavens and the new earth are the fruit of Christ’s redeeming work (Rev 21:1). God’s plan and promise to restore the world is another window into God’s attitude toward our lives on this planet. Our final destination is not heaven, it is a renewed earth. The story of humanity begins and ends on the soil of this planet. We were made to be here. God could not make that more clear.

You, Me, and the Ground (3)

This theme was originally intended to take up one post. We are on to three already. Some of this stuff is just so interesting that I couldn’t help myself. I really enjoy exploring new concepts and theological ideas. This little study has pushed my thinking in new directions. In this post, I will complete the theme and draw out some implications. 
Ground and Worship

The ground is to be worked and the fruit of that labor is to be used in the service of God. In the Old Testament the people were required to bring a portion of their crop to the temple. They were to provide for the priests and the poor through their little plot of ground. This generous gesture was considered an act of worship. 
“We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord…and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor” (Nehemiah 10:35-37).
Holy Ground

God’s presence is always transformative. It even has an impact on the ground. Regular ground is quickly changed into “holy ground” when God shows up. We see this in the story of Moses and the burning bush. Moses could have come upon this bush an hour before his encounter with God and there would have been no reason to take off his shoes. When God comes on the scene everything changes. A bush becomes the holy of holies and the ground surrounding it becomes dangerous to walk on. The implications of this are staggering when one starts to think about the new heavens and new earth. God’s presence will permeate the world in a way not yet known. All ground will be holy ground when Christ returns.

“Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground‘” (Exodus 3:5).

Ground and Hope

At death men return to the dust. Scripture often talks about death as “sleep.” This is because our bodies will only be laid in the dust for a limited time. The promise of resurrection means that we will rise from the dust again. “From dust to dust” will not be the final words spoken over us. God will do a miraculous resurrection work. He will create us a second time from the dust!
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

Implications of our Connection to the Soil

  • Our creation from the dirt creates an inextricable tie between us and the earth. We were meant to be here. An unearthly existence is unnatural for human beings. This is why our ultimate hope is not eternity in heaven, but eternity on a new earth with resurrected bodies. God’s intention for human life lived on earth will not be thwarted. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder that we belong on the earth.
  • Our interrelationship with ground should inform how we evaluate what has value in life. We often spiritualize things and demean normal human existence. You can do this only when you conclude that we were not meant to be here and that our goal is to journey through this place as detached and unscathed as possible. The fact that we were created for this earth brings value to every created thing along with every human task. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of the value of tangible earthly things.
  • Creation from dust should invoke humility and awe in all human creatures. When we recognize that God formed us from a clump of dirt how can we be anything but amazed. When we recognize that our origins are in the mud how can we boast about anything. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of our creatureliness.
  • The ground we exist upon is first and foremost a gift of God.  Eden, the Promised Land, the New Earth, and  your back yard are gracious gifts of the Creator. He gives us soil to live upon. He gives us space on his created earth to work and enjoy. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of God’s grace toward us.
  • The reality that we have come from dust and will return to dust invites us to look our mortality square in the face. It’s amazing how effectively we push this reality away. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of our mortality
  • Our destiny is connected to the earth. We groan along with the earth for deliverance from bondage and decay. We ache for the removal of the curse. The hope of the earth is the hope of the believer—the return of Christ. When Christ returns the dead will be raised from the dust and the earth will be completely renewed. The ground beneath our feet should be a daily reminder of our hope of resurrection and life on a restored earth.

Is there anything else that you would add to this list of implications? Any further thoughts on the importance of our connection to the soil?

You, Me, and the Ground (2)

In the previous post we looked at how man is taken from the ground and made for the ground. We also focused on the ground as a generous gift of God to his creatures. In this post, we continue looking the theme of ground. As you will see, there are some more interesting references to ground in Scripture.

Ground as Witness

At times, Scripture personifies inanimate objects. The ground  is said to feel things and do things.  One interesting activity attributed to the ground is that of a witness.  In these two examples, the ground gives an account to God about our activity. Apparently when no one else is looking, the ground we walk on is.

“And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground ‘”(Gen 4:10).

“If my land has cried out against me and its furrows have wept together, if I have eaten its yield without payment and made its owners breathe their last, let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:38-40).

Ground and Judgment

When sin makes entrance into the world our relationship with the ground changes. The context of blessing and gift becomes the place of curse and judgment. The ground we were called to cultivate and keep turns against us and makes life hard. Death drives us back to the ground from which we were made. In Cain’s case, his judgment is to be driven away and cursed from the ground. He experienced a double curse in relation to the ground. In Israel’s case, the ground responds to their rebellion by opening its mouth and swallowing an entire tribe in judgment.

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

“You are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand…Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground” (Gen 4:11, 14).

“And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Num 16:31-33).

Ground and Grief

There are two strands of biblical data in the vein of grief and ground. The first relates to the grief of the ground. Paul utilizes the language of groaning and pain when discussing the current state of the earth. In the text that follows we see that the ground grieves and hopes along with mankind. The second relates to the grief of men and their use of the ground to express their sorrow. There are a multitude of examples in Scripture when humans crumple into the dust and cover their heads with it to express a traumatic loss of heartfelt repentance. 
This act of grieving and repentance signifies humility and recognition of one’s status before God. To lower oneself to the ground and pull the earth over your head communicates that you know where you came from and you know where you are going. This body language communicates to God what the psalmist voices in Psalm 103:13-14. “The Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:19-22, cf. Jer 14:4, Joel 1:10).
“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head” (1 Samuel 4:12, cf. 2 Sam 15:32).
 “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

Resurrection, Ascension, and Forgiveness

In the last post we saw the explicit linkage between the cross of Christ and our forgiveness. We now turn our attention to the relationship of forgiveness to the resurrection and ascension of Christ. There are two key texts that draws these themes together, both of which come from the book of Acts.

Text 1

“For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation,fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:36-38).
The “therefore” in the text links forgiveness with resurrection. According to Paul, who was the one speaking in the text, forgiveness is now a possibility because the tomb is empty. Christ took upon himself the sin of the world, absorbed the wrath it deserved, and took it with him to the grave. When he rose up from the grave he left our sin there. As a living Savior, he extends forgiveness for the sin he has thoroughly handled. 
Text 2

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31).
This text takes things a step further and ties both resurrection and ascension to forgiveness. In fact, in this text, we have cross, resurrection, and exaltation as necessary precursors for forgiveness. The emphasis, however, is on the role of the ascension/exaltation. Notice in the text that the exaltation of Christ was for a specific reason: repentance and forgiveness. Christ was lifted up from the tomb and into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. He received a rightful seat of authority at God’s right hand in order to forgive.
This gives us a helpful vision of the present posture and purpose of Jesus. Even now he continues to use his power and authority to grant us mercy. He stands ready and able to extend liberating grace to all who would receive. It is as though he is on the edge of his seat looking for every opportunity to grant the forgiveness he so earnestly secured.

The Murder of Death

Athanasius was a very significant figure in the early church. He championed the debate against Arius regarding the deity of Christ. He wrote a phenomenal little book called On the Incarnation of the Word. If you are interested you can download the pdf form of this book in the section “Articles for Equipping.” He speaks about the person and work of Jesus in ways that are foreign to our ears. His perspective is fresh and challenging. In this excerpt he speaks about the death of death in the death of Jesus (to borrow a John Owen phrase).

“It was not consonant with Himself that He should avoid the death inflicted by others. Rather, He pursued it to the uttermost, and in pursuance of His nature neither laid aside His body of His own accord nor escaped the plotting Jews. And this action showed no limitation or weakness in the Word; for He both waited for death in order to make an end of it, and hastened to accomplish it as an offering on behalf of all. Moreover, as it was the death of all mankind that the Savior came to accomplish, not His own, He did not lay aside His body by an individual act of dying, for to Him, as Life, this simply did not belong; but He accepted death at the hands of men, thereby completely to destroy it in His own body.”

Further along in his book he returns to this theme once more.

“A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomsoever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ. He, the Life of all, our Lord and Savior, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. Therefore it is also, that He neither endured the death of John, who was beheaded, nor was He sawn asunder, like Isaiah: even in death He preserved His body whole and undivided, so that there should be no excuse hereafter for those who would divide the Church.”