• The Cross Both Humbles Us and Fills Us With Thanksgiving

    “In daring to write (and read) a book about the cross, there is of course a great danger of presumption. This is partly because what actually happened when “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” is a mystery whose depths we shall spend eternity plumbing; and partly because it would be most unseemly to feign a cool detachment as we contemplate Christ’s cross. For, whether we like it or not, we are involved. Our sins put him there. So, far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness. We can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit. And there we remain until the Lord Jesus speaks to our hearts his word of pardon and acceptance, and we, gripped by his love and full of thanksgiving, go out into the world to live our lives in his service.”

    John Stott, The Cross of Christ. pg 12

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  • Don Carson on the Pastoral Implications of Definite Atonement

    I have blogged about Definite Atonement before here. There are significant pastoral implications and reasons why we should hold to Definite Atonement. Don Carson lists two:

    (1) This approach, I content, must surely come as a relief to young preachers in the Reformed tradition who hunger to preach the Gospel effectively but who do not know how far they can go in saying things such as “God loves you” to unbelievers. When I have preached or lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question, “Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?” No doubt the question is put to me because I still do a fair bit of evangelism, and people want models. Historically, Reformed theology at its best has never been slow in evangelism. Ask George Whitefield, for instance, or virtually all the main lights in the Southern Baptist Convention until the end of the last century. From what I have already said, it is obvious that I have no hesitation in answering this question from young Reformed preachers affirmatively: Of course I tell the unconverted that God loves them.

    Not for a moment am I suggesting that when one preaches evangelistically, one ought to retreat to passages of the third type (above), holding back on the fourth type until after a person is converted. There is something sleazy about that sort of approach. Certainly it is possible to preach evangelistically when dealing with a passage that explicitly teaches election. Spurgeon did this sort of thing regularly. But I am saying that, provided there is an honest commitment to preaching the whole counsel of God, preachers in the Reformed tradition should not hesitate for an instant to declare the love of God for a lost world, for lost individuals. The Bible’s ways of speaking about the love of God are comprehensive enough not only to permit this but to mandate it. [Footnote 4: Cf. somewhat similar reflections by Hywel R. Jones, “Is God Love?” in Banner of Truth Magazine 412 (January 1998), 10-16.]

    (2) At the same time, to preserve the notion of particular redemption proves pastorally important for many reasons. If Christ died for all people with exactly the same intent, as measured on any axis, then it is surely impossible to avoid the conclusion that the ultimate distinguishing mark between those who are saved and those who are not is their own will. That is surely ground for boasting. This argument does not charge the Arminian with no understanding of grace. After all, the Arminian believes that the cross is the ground of the Christian’s acceptance before God; the choice to believe is not in any sense the ground. Still, this view of grace surely requires the conclusion that the ultimate distinction between the believer and the unbeliever lies, finally, in the human beings themselves. That entails an understanding of grace quite different, and in my view far more limited, than the view that traces the ultimate distinction back to the purposes of God, including his purposes in the cross. The pastoral implications are many and obvious.

    Taken from The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.

    If you want to more on definite atonement check out the forthcoming book by David and Jonny Gibson From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective

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  • Why all Christians Should Believe in Definite Atonement

    One of the things I loved about being at college was figuring out what the Bible said about various theological issues. While at college I studied various issues like the atonement, gender, church government, church discipline, the 39 articles, baptism,etc. in an effort to come to a position on each of them. One of my biggest shifts theologically was going from a person who believed that Jesus died effectively for all to believing that Jesus died purposely for the elect. At college I embraced the doctrine of definite atonement.

    Many theologians and well known pastors hold to the biblical doctrine of definite atonement. Here is the eminent pastor/ scholar himself John Piper explaining why he holds to definite atonement:

    Hand in glove with the doctrine of our disabling depravity is the doc­trine of God’s effective purchase of his people on the cross. The reason it’s like hand and glove is that our inability because of sin calls for a kind of redemption that does more than offer us a forgiveness we don’t have the ability to receive. Rather, it calls for a redemption that effectively purchases not only our forgiveness but also our willingness to receive it. In other words, the unwilling glove of depravity calls for the insertion of a powerful hand of ability-giving redemption.

     

    Sometimes this doctrine is called “limited atonement.” It’s not a helpful term. Better would be the terms definite atonement or particular redemption. The reason limited atonement isn’t helpful is that, in fact, the doctrine affirms more, not less, about Christ’s work in redemption than its rival view called “unlimited atonement.”

    The view of unlimited atonement takes all the passages that say the death of Christ is “for us” (Rom. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:10), or for his own “sheep” (John 10:11, 15), or for “the church” (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25), or for “the children of God” (John 11:52), or for “those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14) and makes them refer to all human beings. In this “unlimited atonement” view, the sentence “Christ died for you” means: Christ died for all sinners, so that if you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins.

    Now as far as it goes, this seems to me to be biblical teaching— salvation is offered to all because of Christ. But then this view deniessomething that I think the Bible teaches. It denies that Christ died for his church—his bride (Eph. 5:25)—in any way different from the way he died for unbelievers who never come to faith.

     

    There is no dispute that Christ died to obtain great saving benefits for all who believe. Moreover, I have no dispute with saying that Christ died so that we might say to all persons everywhere without exception: “God gave his only begotten Son to die for sin so that if you believe on him you will have eternal life.”

    The dispute rather is whether God intended for the death of Christ to obtain more than these two things—more than (1) saving benefits after faith, and (2) a bona fide offer of blood-bought salvation to every person on the planet. Specifically, did God intend for the death of Christ to obtain the free gift of faith (Eph. 2:8) and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25)? Did the blood of Jesus obtain not only the benefits that comeafter faith but also the gift of faith itself?

     

    We want to be biblical. Does the unlimited atonement interpretation of any of the “universal” texts on the atonement necessarily contra­dict thismore that I am affirming about God’s intention for the death of Christ—texts like John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; and 1 John 2:1–2?

    I don’t think so…

    …The fact that God makes salvation possible for all through the blood of Christ does not contradict the view that God does more than that through the death of Christ. I don’t affirm that God does less but that he does more. He actually secures the salvation of his chosen people. He secures all the grace needed for their salvation, including the grace of regeneration and faith.

     

    Paul says in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This was a particular redemption. Christ had his bride in view differently than he had all in view. He knew his bride, and he wanted his bride, and he bought his bride. Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). He said, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you [Father] have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). He said, “And for their sake I consecrate myself [to die], that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). In other words,Christ had a specific design in his death for the sake of his people—the cross would be sufficient for the salvation of the world, but efficient for his sheep, his bride.

     

    And Paul carried through this understanding of Christ’s work when he said in Romans 8:32–33, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” God’s elect in verse 33 are the same as the “us all” in verse 32. This group, he says, will most surely receive “all things.” God will see to it. And the reason Paul gives is that Christ did not spare his own Son but gave him up “for us all.” That means that the giving of the Son guarantees all the blessings of the elect.

    This does not limit the extent of what the atonement offers. The benefits of the atonement are offered to everyone.

     

    If you believe on Christ, they are all yours. But “the Lord knows those who are his” (2 Tim. 2:19). For them, for his bride, he is securing something that can­not fail—their faith and their justification and their glorification. Those for whom he died, in this fullest sense, will most certainly obtain all things—they will finally inherit the kingdom of God. His death is infal­libly effective for the elect.

     

    –pg. 136-138, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper (Crossway, 2011)

    The reason that all Christians should believe in definite atonement because only when we see the atonement is for the elect can we say Jesus died to save without reservation or qualification.

    If you want to read more on the biblical doctrine of definite atonement make sure you pre order the book that my good friend Jonny Gibson and his brother David edited  From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective

     With contributors like J. I. Packer, Henri A. Blocher, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Paul Helm, Robert Letham, John Piper, Thomas R. Schreiner,Carl R. Trueman , Lee Gatiss, Donald Macleod, J. Alec Motyer,  Garry J. Williams this will be the book on definite atonement.
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  • Whores, Prostitution, Sin, Idolatry and the Bible

    I have been reading a brilliant book called God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery by Raymond Ortlund. If you think the title is confronting in it’s first print it was called Whoredom! It is a book which is traces the theme of spiritual adultery through books of the bible like Hosea, Ezekiel, Micah, Jeremiah etc. . It is a very confronting and yet spiritually enriching book.

    It has caused me to think about the following things:

    Do I really realise how offensive my sin/idolatry is to God?  If God has said that sin/idolatry to him as offensive to him as a married woman who is cheating on her husband with any man she can find (Jeremiah 2:23-25) is offensive to her husband. My sin is that bad. Do I take it that seriously? Do I take my lust, my pride, etc that seriously? Or do I think it is a mere annoyance to God?

    Do I really savour the cross as much as I should? If my sin is as bad as Jeremiah for instance makes out that must mean that the cross is much more glorious than I could ever imagine because it payed for that sin. If my sin is that bad and the cross is that amazing I should treasure Jesus and the Gospel more than anything else.  It should be delight and my satisfaction.

    The preaching of the prophets was not nice. You really don’t see many passages about God’s people being whores on Christian t shirts do you? This has given me pause to assess my own preaching and proclamation of the gospel. Am I communicating not only the gravity of sin but also the gravity of the gospel? Am I scared of being offensive? Is the antidote to spiritual complacency more practical application or a deeper grasp of our sin and the glory of the gospel?

    These last few questions are questions that I don’t have an answer on as yet. They are merely food for thought. But one thing I am sure of is you need to get God’s unfaithful wife and read it!

     

  • Comforting Truth no. 5 Grace

     

    One of the sweetest doctrines is Grace. It is amazing to know we stand before God forgiven and in a right relationship with him based not on what we have done but only on what he has done. This doctrine hits home when I consider my dad’s and my own mortality. We all know that one day we will face God but when was the last time you considered that you will be standing before God with nothing but the righteousness he has given you? When was the last time you considered that one day you will stand before God and in that moment all you have is the grace he has shown to you in Jesus?

    But grace works itself out in different ways also. It is only by God’s gracious provision that he has put me and my family in Australia where Dad has been benefitting from some of the best medical treatment in the world. It is only by God’s grace that we live in Australia where this treatment cost mum and dad next to nothing. I always thought I was blessed by God to live in Australia but it has only been since dad has been diagnosed with cancer do I realise how much God’s grace has been shown to me in him placing me in Australia.

    But the ultimate form of Grace is shown in the cross where Jesus took my sin and the punishment for that sin in himself so I could be forgiven.

    It is this grace which will keep me going through the rest of dad’s cancer.

    It is this grace which will see my Dad stand before Jesus right with him.

    It is this grace I pray that my dad accepts and I keep living in until that final day.

     

  • Comforting truth no. 2: The Incarnation and the Cross

     

    Can God sympathise with me in my pain? Is God sitting up there watching us “from a distance” like Bette Midler talks about.[1] These questions are answered in the incarnation and ultimately the cross. For in the incarnation and the cross we see God becoming man and suffering. But this brings up the question of Impassibility. Impassibility states that God cannot suffer that he is without ‘passions’. What our church fathers sought to do in affirming the impassibility of God is to make sure that God is not just a souped up human who is affected like us by the trials of life. They sought to affirm that God doesn’t need us that he is not dependant on him and that we cannot change God’s nature by how we relate to him. I think as a reformed evangelical I want to affirm all these things. The Bible presents a picture of God who is wholly other, who doesn’t need us to survive.

    Well then it seems that if we subscribe to Impassibility (which I want to do) we now have a God who is unlike us and who cannot sympathise with us. But here we need to hear Carson’s words:

    It is no answer to espouse a form of impassibility [Here Defined as: Primarily means that God is incapable of suffering, however, can mean to not experience any emotion of desire, or any emotions, period] that denies that God has an emotional life and that insists that all of the biblical evidence to the contrary is nothing more than anthropopathism [Here Defined as: to ascribe human feelings and passions to God].  The price is too heavy.  You can then rest in God’s sovereignty, but you can no longer rejoice in his love.  You may rejoice only in a linguistic expression that is an accommodation of some reality of which we cannot conceive, couched in the anthropopathism of love.  Give me a break.  Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-15). D.A Carson The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God pg.60

    Carson’s words ring true we must make sure that we don’t craft a doctrine in such a way that doesn’t negate things that are obvious in the Bible. So therefore we need a rightly crafted doctrine of impassibility. We need to show that God has emotions but they are unlike ours. I think Robert Reymond has nailed it:

    “Thus whenever divine impassibility is interpreted to mean that God is impervious to human pain or incapable of empathizing with human grief it must be roundly denounced and rejected. When the Confession of Faith declares that God is “without…passions” it should be understood to mean that God has no bodily passions such as hunger or the human drive for sexual fulfillment…”
    “We do, however, affirm that the creature cannot inflict suffering, pain, or any sort of distress upon him against his will. In this sense God is impassible.”
    Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith pg. 179

    So God can feel and he does experience pain. But he does this because he chooses to suffer. It is not like we have hurt God. No, God has come down as a man to experience our pain and our suffering in the cross. It was his choice to suffer and it is his choice to love. As Carson states:

    “If God loves, it is because he chooses to love, if he suffers, it is because he chooses to suffer. God is impassible in the sense that he sustains no ‘passion,’ no emotion, that makes him vulnerable from the outside, over which he has no control, or which he has not foreseen.” (Love of God, 60)

    The comfort I receive when I consider the cross is that God came and experienced our pain even though he didn’t need to. Therefore, in a real and complete way he knows and understands my pain of seeing my dad battle terminal cancer. He knows my dad’s pain in suffering. Therefore I can pray to God knowing he sympathizes with me. I can be angry at sin and ask God to change this world which is wracked by sin, knowing that he has let sin impact him. I can ask him to heal my dad of his pain because he has felt real physical pain.

    This is the God I serve, this is the God who reveals himself in the cross. This is the God I take comfort in.


    [1] I am sorry that I quoted Bette Midler in my blog. I hereby repent of my sin and will never quote her again! If you do want to have a painful experience here is Bette singing “From a distance” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDSh5wUtXt4