Tuesday, August 23, 2016

2 Peter 3:10-14 - Two Exhortations in Light of the Day of the Lord

Hello brother B-----, greetings to you from Logan, Utah!

As you probably know from reading my story, I grew up in New Brunswick, not too far from you. It's nice getting to know another brother from those parts. As I understand it, Christianity (true Christianity) is quite a minority in Quebec... but you should be encouraged; it's a minority everywhere. It always has been, and always will be until Jesus returns.

I'm so blessed to hear that those articles have been an encouragement to you. And thank you, brother, for your question on 2 Peter. I'm truly honored that you'd ask me.

Here is how I understand this passage (2 Peter 3:10-14):

The passage is clearly referring to the day when the Lord returns and judges the wicked as well as delivers His people, and in light of the fact of this coming day, Peter has two exhortations: 1) the reality of this day should influence how we practically live our lives, and, 2) we should be diligent to be found in Christ on that day so as to obtain salvation and not experience God's judgment. So I separate those two exhortations, seeing them as distinct.

The first exhortation in verse 11 is like Paul's similar exhortations in Ephesians 5:3-12 and Colossians 3:5-11. In those passages, Paul exhorts believers to live their lives in light of truth and reality: all sin, evil, immortality, etc. is unbecoming of Christians, since as Christians we understand that these deeds incur the wrath of God: Christ suffered the wrath of God because of them, and unbelievers will be punished eternally for them on the day of judgment. I don't believe in either of these passages Paul is threatening Christians with damnation if they don't live rightly, nor do I believe he is saying that the way of salvation is by living rightly (that would contradict everything Paul has taught about salvation elsewhere, and in Ephesians and Colossians). Rather, he is only pointing to the fact that sinners will be punished for their sin on the day of judgment, and since we Christians understand this we should also recognize that such behavior is unbecoming for us. We shouldn't participate with ignorant Gentiles in them, since we know better. It is not, "cease from sin and be saved", but "cease from sin, since you know better: Christ died because of these, and non-believers will be damned for these things." By faith alone we are delivered from the wrath we deserve. Even though we as Christians still do these things we will not be damned, for we are righteous in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, what we now understand tells us to avoid these things.

That is also what I see Peter saying in verse 11. Since Christ will return and punish all those who are outside of Christ for their sins, in light of this fact how ought we to live our lives? We ought to live our lives differently than the ignorant Gentile world, in reverence toward God who has saved us and who will punish the unrighteous for their sins. I don't believe there is a threat here for Christians. It is not that Christians must live holy and reverent lives in order to be saved (for we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works), but Peter is simply exhorting Christians to live the way we "ought" to in light of reality.

The second exhortation in v. 14 I see as more threatening. Peter is here warning us to be found in Christ on the day of judgment so that we do not perish with the rest of the world. In order for any person to survive the judgment of God he must be "spotless and blameless"; only then will he find peace with God. But if he is found unrighteous and blamable, then there will not be peace for him, but " wrath and indignation... tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek" (Romans 2:8-9).

As Christians, the Holy Spirit has taught us that there is no one who is righteous in and of themselves, and that no one can be righteous by the works of the law (their own works/efforts at being righteous). The only possible way for anyone to be righteous before God is by faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose from the dead. When a person believes in Jesus they are united to Him in His death and His resurrection, so that the believer is likewise counted as dead and as risen, and is now alive unto God through Jesus Christ. The believer is no longer counted a sinner; his sins are no longer counted against him, for he is dead and he is a new creation in Christ, the righteousness of God in Him, totally blameless in the estimation of God--utterly and solely because of the finished work of Christ. "Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Colossians 1:22). "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Hallelujah, that is good news!

Peter himself points us to Paul's writings on the topic of salvation in the verses which immediately follow (v. 15-16). Being found "in peace, spotless and blameless" is only accomplished through faith in Christ. A believer in Christ will be found just so. Therefore what Peter is exhorting his readers to do in this verse is to believe.

But a follow-up question is: why does he need to exhort them to believe? Aren't his readers already Christians? The answer is found all over the Bible: because we inherit the promises "through faith and patience" (Hebrews 6:12). Until the coming the Lord, as long as we live in this body, there are constant forces seeking to destroy our faith and devour our hope. Trials, tribulations, persecutions, lies, deceptions, false prophets, etc. Peter warns us about them in both 1 and 2 Peter. There's a tension in the Bible between us resting and us racing, between us having been saved and us looking ahead to the coming of our salvation. From one perspective, our salvation is yet to come, and until it comes we are in need of patient endurance against the threat of these forces. Yet the Bible encourages us that "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6), and "whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith" (1 John 5:4). That is, our faith is in reality the work of God (Jeremiah 32:39-40), and what God began He will certainly complete. So as Christians we can have assurance and confidence that we will endure to the end because we are born of God, belong to God, are in His hands, and no one can snatch us out of His hands. That's the tension: there's a race to be run, but God will make sure that we run it. Furthermore, God uses such exhortations as 2 Peter 3:14 to ensure that we run it. Those who are born of God heed the warning and persevere. Those who are not born of God don't heed it.

On the other hand, it's important to understand that if we truly believe in Jesus and are born of God, then we are right now justified before the Father. Our finishing the race does not make us God's children, nor does it make us justified, but it reveals that we were His children all along. This is what I believe Colossians 1:22-23 means: "He has now reconciled you... if indeed you continue in the faith" (see also Hebrews 3:14). So if you believe in Jesus Christ--understanding and hoping in the righteousness that comes through faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus (something, by the way, that no unregenerate person can do: 1 Corinthians 2:14, 12:3, etc.)--then you can assure yourself that you are born of God, now and forever justified, and that you will make it to the end.

So I see 2 Peter 3:14 as an exhortation to continue in the faith so that on the day of the Lord we will be found in Christ, righteousness and blameless through faith alone in Him. This exhortation is necessary because until that day we must run the race of faith with perseverance. God uses many means to keep us running, such as exhortations like these. Running is solely about faith in Christ; we must continue to believe with patience until the end. But the other side of the coin is the promise, that if we are born of God, we will continue to believe until the end.

B-----, I hope that answers your question about this passage. Neither verse 11 nor verse 14 takes anything away from the grace of God and the gospel of righteousness through faith alone. Verse 11 is simply an exhortation to live our lives in a fitting manner (no threat), and verse 15 is an exhortation to believe (in light of the race/rest tension).

If this raises other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

For a helpful book on the tension between running and resting, I'd recommend Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday's "The Race Set Before Us" (scholarly), or for an easier read, Thomas Schreiner's "Run to Win the Prize".

May God bless you, brother, and multiply His peace in your heart.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
-Eli

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: "The Free Offer of the Gospel" by John Murray

A great study. 

Murray indirectly refutes Anselm's dictum, "God is compassionate, in terms of our experience, because we experience the effect of compassion. God is not compassionate, in terms of his own being, because he does not experience the feeling (affectus) of compassion." No, says, Murray, “God, the Father, loves his enemies and it is because he loves his enemies that he makes his sun rise upon them and sends them rain. This is just saying that the kindness bestowed in sunshine and rain is the expression of divine love, that back of the bestowal there is an attitude on the part of God, called love, which constrains him to bestow these tokens of his lovingkindness. This informs us that the gifts bestowed by God are not simply gifts which have the effect of good and blessing to those who are the recipients but that they are also a manifestation or expression of lovingkindness and goodness in the heart or will of God with reference to those who are the recipients. The enjoyment on the part of the recipients has its ground as well as its source in this lovingkindness of which the gifts enjoyed are the expression. In other words these are gifts and are enjoyed because there is in a true and high sense benevolence in the heart of God... We are hereby given a disclosure of goodness in the heart of God and of the relation there is between gifts bestowed and the lovingkindness from which they flow.”

And this love and goodwill toward the unbelieving and reprobate is not incidental to God's nature, but is central:

“[Matthew 5:48] means that what has been adduced by way of divine example in the preceding verses is set forth as epitomizing the divine perfection and as providing the great exemplar by which the believer’s attitude and conduct are to be governed and the goal to which thought and life are to be oriented. The love and beneficence of God to the evil and unjust epitomize the norm of human perfection. It is obvious that this love and beneficence on the part of God are regarded by our Lord himself as not something incidental in God but as that which constitutes an element in the sum of divine perfection.”

Amen!

Friday, May 13, 2016

"On the Incarnation" by Athanasius

Interesting, informative, helpful, fresh, original. In his time, setting, and culture Athanasius wrote an incredible book explaining and defending (no, going on the offensive!) the meaning, purpose, and truth of Christ's incarnation in history.

This is not simply a book on the incarnation, i.e. the joining of the human and divine nature. It is substantially a book on the death of Christ. For Athanasius, the incarnation (rightly) is principally about the death of Christ, for the divine Son put on flesh and blood so that He could lovingly sacrifice Himself on our behalf and so deliver us from the condemnation of death. Thus, Athanasius's "On the Incarnation" is one of the earliest Christian theologies on the Atonement ever penned.

The pace of the book is fast, and the content remains on subject and stays interesting. Athanasius was a brilliant author who knew how to keep to his subject. His sensitivity to this is shown in the beginning of chapter four: "You are wondering, perhaps, for what possible reason, having proposed to speak of the Incarnation of the Word, we are at present treating of the origin of mankind. But this, too, properly belongs to the aim of our treatise. For in speaking of the appearance of the Saviour among us, we must needs speak also of the origin of men, that you may know that the reason of His coming down was because of us, and that our transgression called forth the loving-kindness of the Word, that the Lord should both make haste to help us and appear among men."

Athanasius is completely on point in locating the chief necessity for the incarnation and death of Christ in God Himself. God created human beings as His special creation, with an exalted position and destiny. However, through the devil's deceit and the wickedness of man, humans fell from their position and incurred the condemnation of death. God had given them commandment, and the penalty for breaking His commandment was death. The punishment of death is therefore an inflexible law that cannot be broken.

Yet on the other hand, it would not be proper for God to allow His special creation to be lost, to not fulfill the purpose for which He had made them. Furthermore, God, being a loving and good God, had pity upon humanity and desired their salvation.

But this desire for their salvation and for the fulfillment of their destiny, coupled with the inflexible law of God regarding the punishment of death for sin, produces a dilemma. How can humanity be saved? How can God restore humanity without compromising His own law, and therefore His own integrity? Athanasius is keenly sensitive to the problem: God must be consistent with Himself, to both His law and His love. What then can God do?

The solution, according to Athanasius, is the incarnation and death of Christ. The Son of God would come into the world, being born of a virgin, putting on human flesh Himself, for the purpose of taking upon Himself the penalty of death on behalf of all of humanity. Thus Athanasius firmly plants his feet in the doctrine of penal-substitution, and even uses language such as "substitution" and dying "in the stead of" human beings. By Christ's sacrifice, the perfect One offering Himself to God on behalf of the condemned, He "fulfilled in death that which was required." (9) "For if He came Himself to bear the curse which lay upon us, how else could He have 'become a curse' (Gal. 3:13) if He had not accepted the death occasioned by the curse?" (24) There simply was "no other way." (9) Now, because of the death of Christ, humanity is able to be free from the condemnation of death; believers need no longer fear death, for they have been forgiven and will rise from the dead incorruptible on the last day.

Athanasius also discusses how the incarnation had a didactic, or teaching, purpose. By God coming to man in the form of a man, God was able to instruct humanity and reveal to them the truth about reality--the reality of God the Father, of themselves, of creation, of demons, of salvation, etc. I don't think Athanasius connects well enough the didactic purpose of the incarnation and the sacrificial purpose of the incarnation as he should have (they are inseparable), but his point that the incarnation had a didactic purpose is true, and it was right for him to include it.

Not only does Athanasius explain the meaning and purpose of the incarnation, in the middle of the book he also answers common objections to the doctrine (even--brilliantly--thinking up some of his own), and the last part of the book is a forceful apologetic (or perhaps "offensive" is a better word) against unbelievers (Jews and Greeks). Against the Jews, Athanasius marshals Scripture after Scripture showing that the life and death of Christ was clearly predicted in their own sacred texts. Thus Athanasius continues the important tradition of arguing for the truthfulness of Christianity by appealing to prophecy. Against the Greeks, he handles some philosophical objections, but then powerfully turns the guns on his opponents, pointing to the powerful proofs of the divinity of Jesus Christ seen in the lives of Christians, as well as the moral and spiritual transformation of the ancient world since the incarnation of Christ. Even today people would do well to consider his evidences.

In Athanasius's day this book must have been a welcomed answer to skeptics and unbelievers. Considering his culture and context, Athanasius's work was truly groundbreaking, providing a needed check to those who mocked the idea and rationale of the incarnation.

I have a lot of praise to heap on this book. I also have some criticisms.

Athanasius's mind is profoundly Greek (as opposed to Hebrew), and so his emphases tend more toward philosophical questions, such as the categories of being and non-being, rather than toward moral categories such as guilt and reconciliation. The Bible undoubtedly speaks of the corruption of God's creation and death--the taking away of life--as central to the drama, yet these concepts are wedded inseparably to the concepts of sin, guilt, wrath, judgment, and forgiveness. Of these latter ideas Athanasius talks little (not because he does not believe in them, of course, but because his mind's orientation is not as interested in them, or did not see the need to emphasize them). The Greek is primarily interested in philosophy; the Hebrew in relationship with God the Person. Granted, if Athanasius is writing to a Greek audience, the Greek concerns would naturally loom prominently, but I believe the work suffers because of it, and would have been better and more Biblical if Athanasius had spend more time discussing the moral world and moral connections. He could, and should, have challenged his contemporaries to think more Biblically, and hence more really. God's inflexible law, requiring the sentence of death upon sinners, was not arbitrarily made, and it did not simply pose a legal problem for God ("Darn, why did I give that command... now I must abide by it to be consistent with Myself"). Rather, it demonstrates the moral nature of God, who judges sin, who hates sin, who reacts to sin with righteous wrath, and is rightly dissatisfied with iniquity, and who satisfies Himself with good and just vengeance wisely distributed. Here Anselm and the Reformed tradition contributes much.

It is true, according to the Bible, that Jesus came into the world to "heal" us, to restore us from our fallen condition (state of being). Yet to simply say this is not sufficient. We are in such a fallen condition not merely because of our sin (departing from the good path), but because of God's righteous sentence of judgment against us on account of our sin. Thus, in order to be healed and restored, not only must our sin be dealt with, but also God's wrath. We don't need to ask: "Did Jesus come into the world to heal the wounded, or to deliver sinners from retribution?" The answer is: yes. On account of God's retribution, justly punishing humanity for its sins, humanity is mortally wounded and needs to be healed. And how are we healed (restored to health and soundness)? Through Christ dying for our sins, paying our penalty, satisfying the law, propitiating the wrath of God, putting away our sins forever, and therefore enabling us to receive God's healing and restorative blessing. The two concepts go hand-in-hand, and we should never think they are antagonistic to one other.

I don't believe Athanasius would deny this, or that he does deny it in his book. He just doesn't talk much about, nor emphasizes, the moral. He errs, not in what he says, but in what he doesn't say.

Also, Athanasius almost completely omits any discussion of how the benefits of the sacrifice of Christ are received by a person. While he certainly mentions "faith" here and there, there is really no discussion of how a person partakes in Christ's salvation, though it is implied that only Christians partake, while non-Christians will tragically find their end in "eternal fire". (56) The book, though admittedly focused on the meaning of the incarnation, would have been better with even a short explanation.

To be fair to Athanasius, however, he does write at the end of the book: "Let this, then, Christ-loving man, be our offering to you, just for a rudimentary sketch and outline, in a short compass, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine appearing to usward. But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said." (56) In other words, his book is only a preliminary sketch, an skeletal introduction to the great doctrine, and one can find a fuller description and explanation in the pages of Scriptures. This is an important detail to note: Athanasius's work should not be seen as a fully developed theology of the incarnation and death of Christ, and future theologians can build upon the foundation that Athanasius has laid.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed "On the Incarnation". Athanasius was clearly a brilliant theologian, and his life's labors (which God ordained for him to walk in) were a true blessing to the Church and to the world. I highly recommend this classic.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

D.A. Carson on the Universe, Science and Miracles

Here is a valuable reflection from D.A. Carson on the wonderful works of God.

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“The modern, frequently unvoiced view of God is that he is in charge of the big things, the major turning points; it is less clear that he is in charge of anything beyond that. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount argues just the reverse (Matt. 6). Jesus assumes his heavenly Father sovereignly watches over each sparrow and each flower, and argues from the lesser to the greater: if God cares for even these things—surely of relatively little account on the eternal and cosmic scales of things!—should we not trust him to provide men and women, made in his own image, with all that we need? The sad truth is that science has taught many of us to adopt some version of the ‘God-of-the-gaps theory.’ In this view, God sets everything in motion and allows it to chug along in line with the laws that he himself sets in place. But every once in a while God intervenes. He actually does something. We call that a miracle. Biblically speaking, of course, this is nonsense. I would never deny that God has created an ordered universe. But the biblical view of God’s sovereignty is that even now, at every second, he sustains that universe. Indeed, he now mediates every scrap of the infinite reaches of his sovereignty through the Son (1 Cor. 15:25), who even now is ‘sustaining all things by his powerful word’ (Heb. 1:3). A miracle is not an instance of God doing something for a change; it is an instance of God doing something out of the ordinary. That God normally operates the universe consistently makes science possible; that he does not always do so ought to keep science humble. Above all, this view of God’s sovereignty means that we should draw comfort and faith even by observing the world around us—as Jesus did.” – D.A. Carson

Monday, February 29, 2016

Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits

To all my Mormon friends:

Matthew 7:15-20 does NOT mean that you will know a teaching or a teacher is true or false based upon the good or bad RESULTS of the teaching (i.e. good works, good feelings, fruit of the Spirit, etc).

Jesus explicitly explained what He meant in Matthew 12:33-37,

"Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."

And also in the parallel passage in Luke 6:43-45,

"For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh."

In other words, Jesus meant that we will know a teaching or a teacher is true or false based upon the TEACHING, not based upon the results of the teaching. The question is: "what do they teach?" Not, "what is the result of what they teach?"

This is in keeping with the Old Testament test of a false prophet,

"If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,
And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;
Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.
And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee." (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)

"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)

It is high time for you to start listening to Jesus and to test a prophet by the content of his teaching rather than by the results of his teaching.