salvation

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.

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The Purest Theology

Martin Luther once said, “the cross of Christ is the only instruction in the Word of God there is, the purest theology.” For Luther, the cross was far more than a saving event though of course he affirmed that it was central to salvation. His argument went far deeper. He believed that the cross was the central event of theology, the definitive act of God’s revelation and self-identification.

Calvary was a game changer. The Triune God is now and forever the “God of the cross.” As Robert Kolb states, the cross is “where human beings can see what God’s experience, God’s disposition—even God’s essence— really are.” If we would find God, Kolb says we must look in the most unexpected places. We find him as a “child in a crib, as a criminal on a cross, and as a corpse in a crypt.”

Luther based these theological assertions on his reading of Paul, particularly the Corinthian correspondence. Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 1-2 that the cross destroys our perceptions of reality and redefines everything. Wisdom, power and glory are now foolishness, weakness and humility. The cross turns the world on its head.

If the cross becomes our center and we orbit about the Crucified God things will never be the same. We will see with a different lens. We will make decisions that won’t make sense to others. We will value things that are often despised. We will recognize God in places we’ve never seen him before. We will embrace a cruciform existence and in small ways reflect the heart of this humble God.

Immanuel: God With Us In Our Sin

Names mean something. This was especially true in the world of Christ. Names were carefully chosen and would often set the trajectory of a child’s life. In the Matthew narrative we learn that the naming of Jesus was no different. The text says that Mary and Joseph received divine guidance regarding what they would call Jesus. “You shall call his name Jesus for He will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

The name Jesus has Hebrew roots, it literally means “God saves.” God the Father makes clear what the saving work of Jesus is focused on…sin. His name indicated the reason for his coming. His name was a constant reminder of why he was born. Jesus came to deal with sin, this is absolutely central to his purpose. In the context it is very interesting to see that the author moves on to state that his name will be called Immanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23).

Placing these two names side by side is instructive, something the context also seems to require. God is with us and God saves us from sin. Jesus is the God-man who enters the fray, he comes alongside and is present with us even in our sin. To save us from our sin he must walk with us as we struggle and falter. The saving work of God is not accomplished at a distance. He is uncomfortably present…so much so that “he who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

When we speak of the God who is with us, we mean to say that he is with us in our darkest moments, our greatest sins, our desperation, our brokenness, our weakness, our pain, our grief, our suffering…he is with us in the places where we need him most. Luther was right, God is “with us in the muck and in the work that makes his skin steam.”

Augustine on the Humility of God

Of the early fathers, Augustine was the premier theologian of humility. Deborah Ruddy wrote a great article on Saint Augustine’s understanding of The Humble God.

She says this about Augustine and humility: “While many of the early Church Fathers spoke of humility as the Christian virtue, no one was more insistent about its primacy in the Christian life than St. Augustine, whose views bear directly on the needs of the American Church at this time. By relating humility to almost every aspect of his theology, Augustine deeply influenced the understanding of Christian humility in the Western Church.”

The following are some helpful excerpts from this article that capture some of the key components of humility in the theology of Augustine. All of the quotations are directly from Augustine.

What is so singular about Augustine’s teaching on humility is that he so clearly views Christ’s humility as more than a moral example to be imitated; it is the central way that our reconciliation with God occurs. Christ’s humility is both salvific and exemplary. It is the way and the truth. Augustine’s distinctive contribution to the topic of humility, then, is his direct linking of humility to soteriology…

On every side the humility of the good master is being assiduously impressed upon us, seeing that our very salvation in Christ consists in the humility of Christ. There would have been no salvation for us, after all, if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes…Christ’s humility is a “saving humility.”

Without losing what God is, God becomes what God is not. In Jesus Christ, a new kind of sublimity is introduced, a new way of seeing is discovered—lowliness is inseparable from grandeur; humility is inextricably tied to exaltation…

The humbling of the Word simultaneously reveals the desperate state of humanity and the immense worth of humanity. God’s extravagant self-emptying love revealed in the Incarnation highlights, by contrast, the possessiveness of human love…

In describing Christ’s redemptive work as more curative than juridical, Augustine draws on medical images of “cleansing,” “purifying,” and “healing.” As the medicus humilis, Christ heals our particular infirmity and makes possible our return to God. If human beings had suffered from a different ailment, a different medicine would have been prescribed to counteract the symptoms; humility is the remedy because pride is the sickness…

At the heart of Augustine’s understanding of Christ’s mediation is the joining of humanity to the divinity in Christ’s person: “He has appeared as Mediator between God and men, in such ways as to join both natures in the unity of one Person, and has both raised the commonplace to the heights of the uncommon and brought down the uncommon to the commonplace…”

Augustine describes the wood of the cross as the culmination of the humble pathway to God. The humility of the cross is that which actually moves one to God. In joining their suffering to his, the humble find a direct route to communion with God: “But what good does it do a man who is so proud that he is ashamed to climb aboard the wood, what good does it do him to gaze from afar on the home country across the sea? And what harm does it do a humble man if he cannot see it from such a distance, but is coming to it nonetheless on the wood the other disdains to be carried by.

“To cling to the wood of the cross is to surrender to the movement of God, to travel willingly the road of humiliation prefigured for us in the violent rejection of Christ.” Drawing from St. Paul, Augustine preaches, “Let your faith board the wood of the cross. You won’t be drowned, but borne up by the wood instead. That, yes, that is the way in which the multitudinous seas of this world were navigated by the one who said, But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Through his likeness to humanity, Christ joins his humanity to ours, and in this similarity and solidarity “the dissimilarity of our iniquity” is overcome: “The sinner did not match the just, but man did match man. So he applied to us the similarity of his humanity to take away the dissimilarity of our iniquity, and becoming a partaker of our mortality he made us partakers of his divinity.” In this description of an exchange Christology, the humility of Christ carries the promise of our redemption, for through it, the eternal God descends to our mortality in order to invite our ascent to immortality…

The cross, then, is not merely an instrument to salvation; it is the precise way God chose to reveal himself and establish our own return to God…

The foundation of this salvific pattern is humility: “For from death comes resurrection, from resurrection ascension, from ascension the sitting at the Father’s right hand; therefore the whole process began in death, and the glorious splendor had its source in humility…”

I encourage you to click the article link at the top and read the entire thing. I found it helpful and challenging. I believe that a robust view of humility as it relates to the character of God is much needed in our theology. What are your thoughts? Where does humility fit into your view of God?

Gospel and Vocation

Like any other doctrine, vocation must be brought into dialogue with the gospel to grasp its depths and beauty. I have chosen only a few conversation points between them. I want to look at vocation through a Trinitarian lens, gospel shaped vocation, and gospel need in vocation.

The Vocation of the Triune God


When we speak of God we speak of a Triune Being. God the Father, Son, and Spirit—one God in three distinct persons. Vocation is an idea rooted in the Trinity. God takes upon himself various roles in his engagement with the world. These roles fall underneath the categories of creation and salvation. The biblical narrative is clear that the Triune God engages his tasks with the utmost zeal, precision, and efficacy. A brief look at each of the three persons in action will shed light on the vocational God.
The Father
God the Father is the architect of creation. He is attributed with the design and execution of all that has been made. In the first few chapters of Genesis we observe a God who creates with skill, power, creativity, and joy.  In salvation, the Father continues in his role as the designer. To him belongs the plan of salvation. He plans, promises, elects, and sends the Son and Spirit in this work. In each of these areas he is filled with grace and intentionality. His work of salvation is as perfect as his work of creation.
The Spirit
The Spirit plays a vital role in creation. He hovers over the unformed world and breathes life into it. He gives and sustains life. He is the life source for all created beings. In the work of salvation he continues to be the life-giver. He empowers the sent Son to accomplish his saving task. He then is sent by the Son and Father to breathe regenerative life into those trusting the gospel. He sustains new life in people and conforms them into the image of the Son. The Holy Spirit is a mighty laborer who fulfills his tasks with passion and care. 
The Son
The Son is the “word” of God in creation. He is the means through which all things are created. He is God’s mediator. He is also the mediator of salvation. He is sent by the Father to bring his salvation plan to fruition. The Son is said to be the clearest revelation of God. He vividly reveals the vocational God. As the God-man, he also reveals how humans are to engage vocation. In other words, Jesus is the cardinal figure for understanding divine and human vocation.
The short statements about his childhood reveal something of the vocation of children. They are called to obey and honor their parents. They are called to schooling and learning. They are called to serve God above all else. In his later years, we learn that he followed in the footsteps of Joseph and worked as a carpenter. I imagine he engaged his task the same way he worked with his Father in fashioning the earth. The divine work ethic revealed in creation was surely manifest in Christ. It definitely was in his ministry.
In his ministry Jesus took on many roles. He was a teacher, preacher, healer, miracle worker, friend, and ultimately a Savior. His greatest work occurred at a cross and a tomb outside of Jerusalem. God punched the clock before he carried the cross to Golgotha. He was still on the clock when he strolled out of the grave and defeated death. Oswald Bayer hits it on the head when he connects divine vocation to creation and cross. 
“The common rule is: ‘God gives you office that you may serve.’ God’s action is determined by his self-proffering love, which seeks the lost and the fallen. For to Luther God himself, when he is described as Creator, becomes utterly like a human being faithful to his vocation, who gives himself to the lowly. God creates out of nothing, i.e. gives heed to the helpless who are at the point of death. In the crucifixion of Christ on Golgotha, he who was despised by the world showed himself a true Creator, one who makes his costliest work out of that which is nothing.”
The upshot of this is that divine vocation comes to a head in the gospel. In the gospel we see the most vivid demonstration of God fulfilling his role as Creator and Savior. Therefore the gospel is the richest resource for understanding vocation.
The Gospel Shape of Vocation


The gospel is the blueprint for our vocational endeavors. In it we learn these valuable lessons that should translate into our various stations in life.Vocational identity shifts throughout the seasons of our lives
  • Vocation is earthly, normal, and gloriously mundane
  • Vocation is the means by which we love and serve others
  • Vocation is to be engaged with whole hearted excellence
  • Vocation requires suffering, sacrifice, and pain
Vocation Drives us to the Gospel


The gospel shapes vocation, but it also supports us as we engage vocation. As we noted in the last post, our stations in life have a way of exposing our sinful tendencies. We also recognize that though we try our best to execute our vocations with integrity, faithfulness, and selflessness, we fall short of that quite often. We recognize that the gospel example is impossible to follow with our own resources. This is where God uses the gospel standard to drive us back to the gospel promise.
Gospel shaped vocation requires continual gospel support. God’s grace is woven through every facet of vocation. In his vocational activity he rescues us and provides the pattern for our callings. He then undergirds us in our endeavors by gospel strength and cleansing.
 

Salvation by Vocation (2)

In the last post, I argued that God uses the common stations of life to work his saving grace in us. We saw that God uses child rearing uniquely in the life of women. His saving concern is also lavished on men in their work place and in their homes. Every station of life is transformed into an arena where God is now present to work his salvation: marriage, parenting, manual labor, business, public service, education, etc.

How exactly does God work his grace into these life contexts? I understand him to do this in a few different ways. This list captures a few of the main ways.

  • Vocation exposes our sinfulness
  • Vocation curbs and kills our sin
  • Vocation drives us to the gospel of Christ
  • Vocation is utilized to train our character
  • Vocation forces us outside of ourselves and into the service of our neighbor
  • Vocation is where God works through us to shape culture
  • Vocation is the context where we magnify God with our heads, hands, and hearts

Remember that vocation was a term that was only applied to priests and monks during the time of the reformation. It was a high calling to denounce the mundane life of working a 9-5, getting married, and taking care of children. The real holy and spiritual folks were those who spent their days praying and reading their bibles. Into the fray of all this, Luther asserted that every station of life is worthy of the title vocation. Once Luther stated,  “when God wants to save a monk, he compels him to occupy himself with earthly things.” Gustaf Wingren is correct in the reason for such a statement, “in the cloister one is removed  from the anxieties of vocation and from the transformation of vocation.”

It is in the regular, normal, every day existence of people that God is present. A 9-5 is hallowed ground. Parenting is a holy endeavor. Gustaf Wingren captures the sacredness of the mundane.

“Thus a Christian finds himself called to drab and lowly tasks, which seem less remarkable than monastic life…and other distractions from our vocations.  For him who heeds his vocation, sanctification is hidden in offensively ordinary tasks, with the result that it is hardly noticed at all that he is a Christian.  But faith looks on simple duties as tasks to which vocation summons the man; and by the Spirit he becomes aware that all those ‘poor, dull, and despised works’ are adorned with the favor of God ‘as with costliest gold and precious stones.’  The monk is always uncertain about his works; but in work which really contributes to the neighbor’s well-being and is commanded by God, peace and certainty are found.”

It is in these “offensively ordinary tasks” that God exposes, curbs, and kills our sin. Mark Kolden says this about the doctrine of vocation and the mortification of sin.

“Luther speaks of the work of the law (second use) as putting us to death, and he says that this is the way that God carries out our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. According to Luther the Christian ‘dies daily’ (is ‘drowned through daily repentance’, as the Small Catechism puts it). The idea of daily dying has often been spiritualized, to the effect that dying is only understood metaphorically as being penitent for sin. Yet the more realistic emphasis to the effect that each day we actually die a bit seems equally true to Luther, because he also thinks of the eventual physical death of the old sinful self when he uses the phrase ‘dying daily.'”

“Where does this dying happen? In one’s vocation, in which the ‘cross’ of family, hard work, demanding times, etc., gradually (or more suddenly) puts us to death. In addition to being our participation as co-workers in God’s ongoing creative activity (according to the law in its first use), our vocation is also the location of God’s sanctifying work of mortifying the flesh, of putting to death the sinful self (the work of the law in its second use); all of this is so that on the last day only the self that is righteous in Christ will live.”

Gustaf Wingren addresses this same issue in his own words and from his own angle.

“Different aspects of external circumstances serve their function in the crucifixion of the old man. According to Luther, ‘these are true mortifications, not in deserted places apart from the company of people, but right in the social and political order.’ It is in the external and earthly that the slaying of the flesh is to be effected; the crucifixion of Christ was certainly not something inward and refined. Fellowship with Christ is realized in something apparently very unspiritual…We are disciplined in vocation, in labor, and in the demands of social life. Vocation is earthly, just as shockingly earthly as the humanity of Christ, apparently so void of all divinity.”

Sin is put to death in and through vocation. Godliness is also fostered there. Vocation by nature forces us outside of ourselves. It bends our inward focus outward toward our neighbors. Here is Wingren again.

“We have noted above that vocation is so constituted that it is conducive to the well-being of neighbors; it servers others (love). Now we see that it compels one to look to God, to lay hold of his promise (faith). Man is thereby put into right relation both to earth (love) and heaven (faith). God’s complete work is set in motion through vocation: he changes the world and sheds his mercy on hard-pressed humanity.”

Marriage is a perfect illustration of how God works his grace in vocation. Luther said that marriage is of such a character that it “teaches us and compels us to look to God’s hand and grace, and simply drives us to faith.” Wingren states, “Marriage has the function of compelling one to work for the good of others. And when that happens, man generally stands empty-handed and helpless before God; that is to say, faith then has a chance to be born.” Here is Wingren one more time.

“The human being is self-willed, desiring that whatever happens shall be to his own advantage. When husband and wife, in marriage serve one another and their children, this is not due to the heart’s spontaneous and undisturbed expression of love, every day and hour. Rather, in marriage as an institution something compels the husband’s selfish desires to yield and likewise inhibits the egocentricity of the wife’s heart. At work in marriage is a power which compels self-giving to spouse and children.”

Marriage shows us our sin, pushes us to Christ, pulls us outside of ourselves, creates character, fosters godliness, and absolutely transforms an individual. This is God’s design. These things are true because God is in the midst of marriage to save. This is true in every vocation—if we would open our eyes and recognize what God is doing and desiring to do.

In my opinion, this view of vocation infuses all of our roles and tasks with significance and value. It also roots godliness in the every day existence of most people. Mark Kolden captures this well.

“Just as God’s redemptive act in becoming incarnate affirms that salvation is not an escape from creation but a restoration and fulfillment of it, so also the Christian life will not be an escape from creaturely life but a calling to it. The call to follow Christ leads not to any religious vocation removed from daily life, but instead it transforms the attitude and understanding one has of the situation in which one already is.”

On a personal note, my own exploration into the doctrine of vocation has changed me in significant ways. The doctrine is like a reset button regarding our perceptions of every day tasks. It has helped me engage my various roles and tasks with fresh vigor. It has caused me to view all areas of work and responsibility as holy and important. I hope this little exploration has been helpful to you as well. I encourage you to continue researching the topic.