From time to time I will post excerpts or thoughts that have been a source of illumination to me. Below is an excerpt from The Valley of Vision.1 I am particularly struck by the last line which defines our place of provision in this life.
MAN A NOTHING
I am a shell full of dust,
but animated with an invisible rational soul
and made anew by an unseen power of grace;
Yet I am no rare object of valuable price,
but one that has nothing and is nothing,
although chosen of thee from eternity,
given to Christ, and born again;
I am deeply convinced
of the evil and misery of a sinful state,
of the vanity of creatures,
but also of the sufficiency of Christ.
When thou wouldst guide me I control myself,
When thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself.
When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself.
When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself,
When I should submit to thy providence I follow my will,
When I should study, love, honour, trust thee, I serve myself;
I fault and correct thy laws to suit myself,
Instead of thee I look to man’s approbation,
and I am by nature an idolater.
Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee.
Convince me that I cannot be my own God,
or make myself happy,
nor my own Christ to restore my joy,
nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction,
for when my credit is good thou dost cast me lower,
when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away,
when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy
appetite, lustful heart;
show me that none of these things
can heal a wounded conscience,
or support a tottering frame,
or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross
and leave me there.
- The Valley of Vision, Edited by Arthur Bennett, pub Banner of Truth Trust, p 166 [↩]
The Apostle Paul wrote an extensive treatise on the theology of the Gospel. We call it the New Testament book of Romans. Typical of most of his epistles, the apostle first opens to us the reasons underlying the spirit and practices of the Christian life. Interestingly, Martin Luther (1483–1546) in his commentary on the book of Galatians described doctrine as “faith and instruction of the conscience.” He wrote:
It was the custom of the apostles that after they had taught faith and instructed the conscience they followed it up with admonitions unto good works, that the believers might manifest the duties of love toward each other.1
As surely as the life of the physical body is predicated on facts concerning its design, functions and needs, so the life of the Christian is based on the facts concerning God and ourselves revealed to us in Scripture. In Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul tells us
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1, 2
In light of the reasons for faith (instruction, doctrine) in the Gospel which he detailed in the preceding eleven chapters and here calls the mercies of God, and as a result of its conscience-forming effects, the believer is to present (his body) a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is (his) spiritual service of worship. What does he mean?
In the days of Paul, sacrifices were brought daily to the Temple to be offered as a substitution for the life of the sinful worshipper and his family.2 The whole service must have been exceedingly solemn. Having first been duly ritually purified, a man brought his sacrifice himself ‘before the Lord’—anciently, to ‘the door of the Tabernacle’ (Lev 1:3; 4:4), to the site the altar of burnt-offering (Exodus 40:6). Later, in the days of Temple in Jerusalem, this same practice happened in the Great Court, before the door of the Temple. Next he placed it so as to face the west, or the Most Holy Place, in order thus literally to bring it before the Lord. To this the apostle refers when, in Romans 12:1, “he beseecheth us to present our ‘bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.’”3
In practice the worshipper would present his sacrificial animal to the priest, and in so doing he would place his hands on the head of the animal while leaning on it, confessing his sinfulness, thereby ritually transferring his sin to the animal that would be slain in his place. The Temple was situated with its door to the sanctuary facing east. The worshipper approached from the east, facing west, that is, facing the sanctuary door. Between him and the sanctuary was the altar. As he faced the altar, presenting the body of the sacrifice, he necessarily faced the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies within. While standing in the presence of the bloody altar, where the sacrificial substitute would be slaughtered, looking straight ahead, the worshipper faced God. God accepted him because of his blood sacrifice offered in faith interposed between himself and the sanctuary.
So the Apostle Paul tells us that we are now saved from the wrath of God by the atoning/justifying work of Christ, the once for all bloody Lamb slain and interposed for us.4 All of the synoptic gospels5 tell us that as Jesus died on the Cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,” or “in two.” The veil mercifully separated sinful worshippers from the unobstructed sin-annihilating presence of God most holy. Jesus’ sacrificial death removed the condemning sin from all who trust in Him, so now believers in His atoning death are beneficiaries of His vicarious condemnation for sin, justification in righteousness, and resurrection in new and eternal life. The blood of the Lamb of God now interposes between the believer and God. Slaughtered sacrificial animals are now useless, ((“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:11-14, NAS95.)) but instead, still facing God, we are to live our lives as totally given over to Him (present your bodies), which is our perpetual act of worship.
Why “present your bodies” rather than your souls or your goods? The body here represents giving your entire being, as when the sacrificial lamb was killed in the Temple, in giving its body, it gave its all. This sacrifice, a life continually facing and presented to God not as our own righteousness but on the ground of the once-for-all-time poured out life of His eternal Son is pleasing to Him.
How is this change effected? You are transformed by the renewing of your mind empowered by the Spirit of God Himself. The Greek word for transformed6 is used three other times in the New Testament. Twice it describes the transfiguration of Jesus Christ in the presence of Peter, James, and John.7 The apostle Paul uses it again when writing to the Corinthian church. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.8 Paul says that as we behold Christ, we are changed, progressively, from glory to glory. In Romans, Paul says that the ongoing process of renewing of our minds (powered by the Holy Spirit) transforms us. In this way we discover and live out the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Reading, contemplating, and obeying Scripture transforms our worldview and our driving ambitions. This is effective because in Scripture Jesus Christ’s glory is revealed to us, and the Holy Spirit enlivens within the desire to worship, prize, and obey Jesus. Our minds are transformed from the desires and ways of this world, to the will of God for us; which is our Christ-likeness.
In the remainder of the book of Romans Paul describes how this Holy Spirit empowered renewal is lived out in practical terms, in our everyday world.
- Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Ref. Chapter 5, verse 12, entitled The Doctrine of Good Works. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Note: It is generally believed that Paul wrote Romans in 57 AD, was executed between 64 AD and 67 AD. The Roman General Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. [↩]
- Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, 113. [↩]
- Romans 5:9, 10 [↩]
- Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45 [↩]
- From which we derive our word metamorphosis. [↩]
- Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. [↩]
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 [↩]
Sometimes I wonder if the problem with guns and violence that we have in this country might be a metaphor for the general state of our nation. I do not deny that we have a constitutional right to own firearms. In an ideal society, every adult man or woman would be able to carry a handgun, and wouldn’t have to. If they were packin’ they’d not be a danger to themselves or others. That is to say, in the ideal, (shall I say Utopian?), society, every person would watch for the welfare of his neighbor. Humility and respect would prevent one from wanting to dominate or bully others. A Glock could be as common as a Garmin, and about as interesting.
But alas, we live in a different world. In this world the timid feel pressured and defenseless. In this world, ownership of a gun can provide some sort of confidence, even bragging rights. The boast of who has the biggest gun is as old as time. And easily enough the need to carry a gun to defend oneself can morph into the desire to carry a gun to assert oneself. The fact is, though, a stable, open, democratic and just society can only endure as long as the hearts of the populace are altruistic and righteous; as long as the average citizen sacrificially respects and watches out for his peers. It’s all a matter of the heart, right?
That means we’re in trouble. Mankind has always been vicious, boastful, selfish and intolerant. And we are not mellowing out. Rather society is growing meaner, and ME-ner, times are ripening, ethnic faces are different, cultures are clashing, comfort zones are shrinking, and all sorts of people demand their “rights”. And compliantly even the courts fashion rights that aren’t all that apparent in Constitutional ink, and nullify ones that are.
So we Christians REALLY want the God endowed rights that really are there… guns and God. A handgun with snap-replaceable handgrips to compliment a woman’s color season or outfit might fit right in at a Bible study with her stylized, special edition, color coordinated, time-of-life study Bible! Hoo-rah and hallelujah! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
So why a Colt Magnum .44? Cause it just looks manly, mean. Goes off with a loud bang too.
Do you feel lucky today, punk?
Any salesman worth his receipt book knows that it is essential to present his wares as advantageously as possible. Mood lighting and inspiring music, can provide an appropriate ambience. Assertion of anticipated pleasure (unless our vendor is a funeral director), and even testimonials of approving and satisfied customers (again, the funeral director) are standard. And of course trendy is sexy. Authenticity, or the appearance thereof (how ironic is that?), is a bonus.
Humanity is a tribe of natural-born, self-employed, self-promoting PR agents. From Binky® to burial we nurture and refine techniques to attract, maintain, and promote acceptance, approval, admiration, etcetera, from our fellows. And with any success there, we can go for the gold, i.e. superiority. Or failing that, revenge. How sweet.
Jesus is the self-promoting PR agent’s undoing, for He knows all men.1 He knows you, and He knows me – intimately. No leaden shield devised can block His penetrating gaze into the naked human heart, and none of our improvised fig leaf coverings impress Him. And as our final Supreme Judge2, His evaluation matters, big time.
Jesus’ most scathing pronouncements were for those whose religious arrogance held the hoi pollioi down in distain while inflating their own aura of excellence. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” That was the diagnosis, and the remedy followed: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”3 And here we have the nub of the matter. The patina of polish on a worn boot does nothing for the hole in the sole. The sparkle on the rim of a polluted cup will not countervail the poison within.
Jesus is not talking about dinnerware here, but hearts. A disguised polluted heart is like a skunk under the porch, maybe out of sight, but not out of mind. The heart is the essential self, the wellspring of our thoughts, words, and deeds. If the inner heart is clean then outer purity and the fruit thereof follow as naturally as apples on a McIntosh. But if the heart is stony, to God its issue is just gravel. The affectations of the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees made them to Jesus’ discerning eyes like dead, desiccated and discarded Christmas trees clinging to remnants of tinsel, whose fate is only “Fit for burning.”
And burning could be the end of the story for them and us, for Jesus’ remedy is a mission impossible; to clean the inside of the cup and dish, that is, to renovate our inner selves. In short, we need a newly scrubbed and unnaturally righteous heart, which is inclined toward loving God and fellow humanity. Jesus’ demand seems to require that we initiate an ontological self-regeneration, complete with new desire and perspective and goal genes. The hitch is, of course, creation and recreation is beyond our competence. Something like the prescription for a do-it-yourself heart transplant, followed by resuscitator paddle reboot and a lusty “clear!” The Pharisee Jesus speaks to needs help from outside of himself. He needs external, focused, surgical and bloody grace! And we too, are Pharisee’s at heart. That is why no self-improvement program or religion will do. They are just rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship, as the saying goes.
Jesus’ command anticipates the God planned, God initiated, and God completed Gospel of grace, bestowing a new birth, a new heart, a new future, at Christ’s expense. It is appropriated by faith, that God by grace will give just as He said he’d give.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:4-10, NAS95.
I need help. I don’t know what to do here!
A creature has spontaneously evolved in my Lava Lamp, and… it looks at me... It’s been there a few days now. I’m lost as to what to do. Should I:
- Give it a name?
- Call Richard Dawkins?
- Ask advice from PETA?
- Claim it as a deduction on my 1040?
Any helpful suggestions will be appreciated!
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus,..”1
Earth at its genesis, Scripture tells us, was shrouded in darkness. When God spoke “Let there be light”, the earth was flooded with illumination, and God saw that this was good.2 This account records for us the creation of the material earth, and the light was physical light. As the account unfolds we are also told that God placed Man in an environment ideally suited to his physical needs. There, Man was given one prohibitive injunction; disobedience would result in death.3 The essential nature of this disobedience was the denial of the essential Creator rights of God in sovereignty to define good and evil. Man had rejected the Creator in favor of self-determination, which ironically resulted in God’s curse on the earth, immediate spiritual death for Man, and indelible soul-enveloping spiritual darkness.
From that moment the history of Mankind has been a long struggle for self-determination, self-fulfillment, and mastery over the physical elements of Creation. Hostility toward the acknowledgement of God became the ruling standard. The Bible and history record the long tragedy-strewn trek of Man, manfully, “heroically” striving to live a God–disconnected life in a God-created, God-cursed realm. The earth itself rebels, refusing to fully submit to human mastery. Like Edmund Pevensie’s lust for Turkish delight proffered by the White Witch, the sweet, alluring enticements of material discovery and spiritual insights lead inevitably it seems, to unintended adverse consequence and a prolonged, deepened, locked in, winter of spiritual barrenness. Where is Aslan when we need him?
Helpless. Like a man born in a prison cell, content there, ignorant of the larger outer world, Destined to exist in his cell unless someone from outside applies the key to the cell door, swings it open, and gently leads him out of confinement to the light and liberty of the larger world. We are born body and soul enslaved to the physical and sensual elements of Creation, but dead to the Creator.4 Rather than bowing to the Greater, we helplessly crave after surrogates. We are hostile toward God rather than loving.5 Scorn replaces worship. We are born with defective spiritual sight, our spiritual urges6 are perverse and corrupt.7 And because inescapable judgment looms, help is required; from outside of ourselves. Desperately.
One of the sweetest phrases in Scripture referring to God’s intervention is “but God.” For example “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”8 And, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,…” ((Ephesians 2:4-6)) An expeditionary rescue force has been sent into the world from beyond its borders. The Creator Himself, triune in essence, invincibly invaded His rebellious created realm, not for vengeance, but for grace. The campaign was conceived by God the Father, the bloody battle won by God the Son, and now the spoils freely distributed by God the Holy Spirit. The triune God has done it all! As helpless Jonah called out in deathly distress from his deep-diving writhing dungeon, “Salvation is of the LORD.”9 And none other. God rescued with no help from Jonah.10
Charles Spurgeon adds more insight to the fact that “Salvation is of the LORD.”11 The thrust of his sermon is that in the salvation of mankind, truly there is and could not be any other agent involved. He makes the following cogent points:
The plan of salvation is entirely of God:
- Salvation is older than Creation.
- God had no counselor, no assistance, no instructor to guide Him.
- God knew that Man would fall.
- The demands of justice for our treason coexist with God’s mercy.
The plan was of the Lord in execution:
- Christ alone died on the Cross, unaided.
- Salvation is provided by the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Salvation is of the Lord in application:
- If God had provided a way of escape from condemnation, but only required a man/woman to “step into it,”—that person would remain in condemnation eternally, a sinner dead in sin (Ephesians 2). If God required him/her to make himself alive, whereupon God would do the rest, then God has rendered salvation as impossible for him under the gospel as it was for him under the Law, “seeing man is as unable to believe as he is to obey, and is just as much without power to come to Christ as he is without power to go to heaven without Christ. The power must be given to him by the Spirit.” A preacher’s only hope of success is that the Holy Spirit meets his hearers, and enlivens them to the gospel, and gives them a new heart. The preacher is merely the messenger, the herald; the application is of God. God must begin the work of salvation-life in a person.
Salvation is of the Lord in the sustaining of the work in any man’s heart:
- “When a man is made a child of God he does not have a stock of grace given to him with which to go on forever, but he has grace for that day, then the next day, then the next, until days shall end…” “As a man does not make himself spiritually alive, so neither can he keep himself so.” “No man of himself, even when converted, hath any power, except as that power is daily, constantly, and perpetually infused into him by the Spirit.” As manna lasted only for a day and had to be renewed daily (Exodus 16; Matthew 16:11), so God feeds His children spiritual bread continuously.
The ultimate perfection of salvation is of the Lord:
- “As was the foundation such must the top-stone be; that which was laid on earth the first beginning must lay in heaven the top-most stone.”
- In heaven we shall cast our crowns at the Redeemer’s feet and acknowledge that He did it all. “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.”12
- Salvation is not a result of one’s temperament. As the apostle Paul remarked “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” ((1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NAS95))
- Salvation is not dependent on the quality of a minister. Again, as the apostle Paul said of his own ministry: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” ((1 Corinthians 2:1-5, NAS95))
This doctrine (Truth) destroys the pride of the self-righteous. (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31)
This Truth gives hope—for God’s grace can save any man or woman no matter how depraved. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 above.
This Truth engenders humility in the saint. Again, see above.
This Truth fosters trust—in God’s power and faithfulness.
This Truth gives joy, it combats despair. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” ((Psalms 27:1, NAS95))
This Truth when believed gives confidence (nerve) to work for God, because preaching/ teaching/ testifying results are in God’s hands, not ours, even if such preaching/ teaching/ testifying results in injury or death, martyrdom.
Salvation is found in no one, or no place, else than Christ Jesus. ““And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”” ((Acts 4:12, NAS95))
As Michael Horton has written:
Chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, redeemed by Christ in history, receiving an inheritance in Christ, and being sealed in Christ by the gospel, we have a salvation from start to finish by the choice of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit (Eph 1:3–14). In Fact, in Romans 8 it is this realization of God’s gracious election, calling, justification, and glorification (vv. 29–30) that leads Paul to the summit of doxology, first in verses 31–39, and then again finally in 11:33–36. In the application of this salvation by the Spirit no less than in its accomplishment by Christ can we sing, “Salvation is of the LORD” (Jnh 2:9). All of this means that the gospel is not an experience that we have, much less one that we can bring about. It is an announcement that creates faith in the Redeemer who makes it. It comes to us from the outside, and the Spirit opens our hearts to receive it. It creates new experiences and inner transformation that yields good works, but the gospel itself—and the Spirit’s effectual calling through that gospel—remain distinct from anything done by us or within us. The gospel is God’s life–giving word, creating a new world out of nothing (Ro 4:16–17; 1 Pe 1:23, 25).”13
- 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB [↩]
- Genesis 1:2–4 [↩]
- Genesis 3:3 [↩]
- Ephesians 2:1, 2 [↩]
- Romans 8:7 [↩]
- Because we are created in the image of God, the need for spiritual expression and fulfillment is organic and inescapable. [↩]
- John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4; John 3:19 [↩]
- Romans 5:8 [↩]
- Jonah 2:9 [↩]
- Acts 4:12 [↩]
- From a sermon by that title, Spurgeons Sermons, Vol 3, 194ff. [↩]
- Psalms 115:1, NAS95 [↩]
- Pilgrim Theology, Michael Horton, 253, italics original. [↩]
Heard about David and Goliath in church this morning. About how God can bring about deliverance and even compassion using something as common as a small, round stone. He can even use you or me. Trouble is, at times my heart is hard as a stone, and small. I don’t think God uses hearts of stone. The fact is, we need an internal work of God’s grace, to give external grace around us. It all comes from Him in the end. No?