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.

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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.

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Justification and Equal Footing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Intention of the Cross in 1 Peter

There is nothing more intentional than the cross. It was the Triune design mapped before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28, 2 Tim 1:9, Eph 3:11). It was an eternal plan with infinite ramifications and boundless reach.

The New Testament exhausts language, metaphor and story as it strives to capture the profound glory and impact of God taking a cross for his lost world. Eternity will run out of time before we unpack the depths of God’s grace and kindness expressed toward us in the cross (Eph 2:6-7).

1 Peter speaks to a number of explicit intentions of the cross. He does not keep his talk on Calvary in the theoretical. He speaks of the cross as a ransom, a merciful tool to create a people, a penal substitution, a glorious exchange and a healing. His view of the cross is rich and varied. He moves from these atonement models to the direct implications.

Notice his language of divine intention and purpose in this four texts. Sit in these for a while and you will be encouraged.

  • “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1 :19-21).
  • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:9-10).
  • He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet 2:24-25).
  • For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Pet 3:17-18).

Contaminated By Responsible Action

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian positioned in a challenging historical situation. As a Christ-follower, pastor and professor he wrestled with the dynamic of Hitler’s dictatorship and the terror of the Holocaust.

What must a responsible disciple of Christ do in such an impossible context? Many turned a blind eye to the situation and plugged their ears. Bonhoeffer pushed for and modeled a different path. His comments are wise and challenging in this regard.

Here and there people flee from public altercation into the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But anyone who does this must shut his mouth and his eyes to the injustice around him. Only at the cost of self-deception can he keep himself pure from the contamination arising from responsible action. In spite of all that he does, what he leaves undone will rob him of his peace of mind. He will either go to pieces because of the disquiet, or become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.

Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles. his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?

Responsible action is messy. When you enter the fray obediently, staying clean is unlikely. The idea that a Christian can stay faithful and unscathed by the mess around them is faulty. This “private virtuousness” that removes our neighbors from us and keeps the world at bay is no virtue at all.

Bonhoeffer’s theology would root virtue in the cross; the embodiment of contamination for responsible action.

The Father’s Humility at the Cross

The cross is the pinnacle of humility (Phil 2:5-11). We know that event displays the heart and character of Christ, but what about the Father? Is there humility displayed in his role in Calvary? I believe so.

The Father’s Humility at the Cross

When we discuss the Trinity and the cross we must tread lightly. All too often the three persons are polarized and misrepresented. Caricatures of a stern distant father and an unwilling Son abound. The truth, the Triune God suffers at the cross. All three persons experience suffering. All three persons demonstrate sacrifice and humility.

Jurgen Moltmann captures the unique suffering and humility of the Father in the cross of his Son.

“The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of his Son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. The Fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the Sonlessness of the Father, and if God has constituted himself as the Father of Jesus Christ, then he also suffers the death of his Fatherhood in the death of the Son.”

A rarely explored dimension of the cross, this perspective opens a window into the humility of God the Father. In the giving of his beloved Son the Father is saying, “I am meek and humble in heart.” Humility is outward looking self-sacrificial love. If the Father’s gift of Christ is not an expression of humility, I don’t know what is.

I will end this post with a great quote by Jurgen Schulz. I believe he is correct in his assessment of the centrality of the cross in displaying the heart of God. Though he doesn’t use the language of humility he is touching the concept.

“The Triune God who lives in the Eternal Dance of glory, goodness and grace. The God of Calvary love. The God Christ came to reveal.There is one way of knowing what He is really like—look at Jesus. Look at the cross. Only the Son knows the Father, and those to whom the Son makes Him known.He is a God who lays down his life for others. That is what actually goes on inside the Trinity! Self-sacrificing love. One author described Him as a Supreme Being of ‘fathomless unselfishness.’ The cross was not an accident. It is what this Triune Community is all about. It is what the Bible means when it says, “God is love.” What an amazing Deity He turns out to be!”

The God on his Knees

Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the most well known passages in the Pauline letters. I have been intrigued by the vision of God that is given in this passage. Here is the text for you to read and the following is a meditation on the humility of God.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This text is phenomenal. Paul is showing us that humility is central to the character of God.  Here we see a God who gets underneath his creatures to serve them. A God who actually considers his creatures more important than himself. A God who genuinely looks out for our interests above his own. Stunning!

This text points us to the reality that Jesus is God’s chosen self-disclosure. If you want to know what God is like you must look to Jesus. This is implicit in the text. It is explicit elsewhere. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus has explained God to the world. He has led him out from behind the curtain for all to see.

Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”  When you look at Jesus you see God.And when we do look at Jesus, what do we see?

We see a humble man serving us with great humility and sacrifice at every turn. The text maps out the humble journey of the Son of God. At each critical juncture, we see humility embodied and explained. I want to highlight three junctures in the journey of Jesus: the crib, the cross, and the crown. All three of this junctures are marked by humility.

The Crib


In verses 3 and 4 the text reads, “in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also the interest of others.” Paul tells us that this was precisely the mindset of Jesus. It was his frame of mind when he agreed with the Father to come into this world and become a man.

As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less about yourself, but thinking about yourself less.” It is the freedom of self-forgetfulness and the joy of throwing yourself into the service of others. This is what characterizes the life of God.

Verse 6 is quite incredible, “although he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus was fully equal with God. But he did not use his divine status as an excuse to remove himself from our need. He did not cling to his exalted position instead he used it for our good. “He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

One author explains the significance of this statement as follows: “The decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine.” In other words, the fact that Jesus refused to remain in heaven speaks volumes about God. This is a God who uses all of his divine resources to serve and save us!

In Jesus we behold a God in the crib. A God so humble that he was willing to become a child. He was willing to be clothed and fed by a mother. He was willing to learn to crawl, talk, and dress himself—so that one day he could put himself on a piece of wood and die for us!

The Cross


Paul tells us in verse 8 that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

This is the climax of humble service. Everything in the life of Jesus was building to this moment. As Luther once said, “The cross and crib are cut from the same wood.” The cross was just the next stage in his humble service toward us. But the cross changes everything. The definition of humility was forever altered after the Son of God was hung upon a tree for you and me. Who is this God?

Hearers of this message in Paul’s day would have been absolutely stunned that any deity would be connected to humility and more than that a cross. Humility was not a virtue for the roman gods; it was a weakness. Augustine was adamant that you would not find the quality of humility ever attributed to any other so called god. This was a virtue that belonged exclusively to Jesus Christ.

A cross was even crazier—many thought that the early Christians were “mad” for worshipping a God that had been crucified. Crucifixion was the ultimate shameful death—how could you claim that a god could ever be crucified and even more how could you ever worship such a weak and helpless god?

The truth, however, is that the cross is the greatest display of humble love the world has ever known. It expresses to us that we have a God who was literally humbled to death for our sake! A God who was swallowed by death in order to destroy it from the inside—for us!

Luther says, “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.” Why? Because this is his glory! The God who comes low and took on death to demonstrate the depth of his concern—this is glory.

Without a humble God we could not be saved. Augustine said “there would be no salvation for us if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes.” The humility of Jesus is a saving humility. He is not just showing us the way of humility. He is saving us by his humility.

The Crown


Paul tells us that this humiliation takes a turn to exaltation. God highly exalts him and gives him a name above all names. And it is at this name that every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Even here the glory of humility is evident. It is the humility of God that brings us to our knees in adoration. When we behold the stunning and unexpected glory of humility, we ourselves are humbled. God crushes us with his kindness—it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. I believe this is just another dimension or angle on his humility.

When the Son is exalted what does he do in heaven as he sits at the right hand of God enthroned? The book of Hebrews and the book of Romans both tell us that he does not sit on his throne much—instead we find him on his knees interceding and praying for us! This is how he reigns from heaven—with sacrificial concern and service.

When we look at Jesus we behold a God on his knees. Crawling as a baby. Falling to his knees as he carries the cross. On his knees in prayer as our King. The glory of his humility is blinding. He considers us as more important than himself and proves it by giving his own life for our sake. Such humility beckons us—calls us to worship. It calls us to join God on our knees. If we serve a God who is comfortable on his knees then surely that is where we will meet with him.