Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Gospel (page 3 of 4)

Conversations That Count

I’m excited about what God is doing in our city, in particular, in some of the local churches in our city. Below is the info for an event being hosted by Grace Toronto and run by the Ezra Institute (which is run out of Westminster Chapel). The event is coming up on Saturday, May 29 and will help us learn how to engage people in conversations and relationships that go beyond the weather and sports and get to the more meaningful matters of life.

If you, like me, would like to learn how to better love and share the gospel with your neighbour, then this is a great event for you to consider attending!

The Answer to Everything

I’ve been preparing lately to begin preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at GFC. Any time you begin a new book, there is always a lot of background reading that you have to do to set the stage for where the book is going to take you. Most of what you read never makes it into the sermons, but it helps you understand what are the main themes of the book, what’s the historical context, what’s the background of the people being talked about, and things like that.

In particular, I’ve been reading today all kinds of speculation about what the doctrinal problems were that faced Timothy and Titus in their local churches. Since Paul doesn’t specify in any of the three letters exactly what the heresy is that they’re dealing with, we’re left to fill in the gaps by putting together hints and drawing inferences — not ideal exegesis.

Anyway, this thought struck me as I was reading: ‘Isn’t it interesting that God never details for us what the doctrinal problem was; I guess he didn’t want us to know. I wonder why that is…?’

Then I got to a particularly helpful section of Mounce’s commentary where he says, basically, it doesn’t matter on one level what the issue was; Paul’s answer to everything is the gospel.

Ding! The bulb above my head flicked on.

The very fact that the individual errors aren’t highlighted serves to draw those problems to the background and highlight the one great thing that’s the answer to everything: the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the point. No matter what the problem is in your local church, the answer is always found in a right understanding of what God has done for a fallen people in his Son Jesus Christ, by the power of his Holy Spirit.

And here’s how Mounce concisely summarizes that glorious gospel, the answer to everything:

God has acted in grace and mercy through the death of Christ with an offer of forgiveness, to which people must respond in faith, turning from evil, receiving empowerment through God’s Spirit, and looking forward to eternal life. (William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, WBC v.46, lxxvi.)

So if you want to be a part of the answer instead of a part of the problem in your church, ask yourself this: Am I focusing on the gospel? Is the gospel part of my conversation? Do I speak it with others? Is it an essential part of my ministry in my local church?

The gospel is glorious truth, and one that we can never major on enough. That’s what Timothy and Titus had to be reminded of and that’s what we must remember.

Is It Arrogant to Preach Exclusivism?

Bryan Chapell offers this important and instructive insight into whether it is more arrogant to preach the exlusivity of Christ, or to not preach the exclusivity of Christ. The criteria for whether the real arrogance is in preaching or not preaching, he argues, is whether or not the proclamation is true.

Proclaiming the message of eternal salvation in Christ alone unquestionably evidences undiluted arrogance, gross insensitivity, and religious bigotry—unless the message is true. Then, proclamation of the only true hope is the most important and loving message that a person can communicate, and failure to do so evidences incomparable callousness, gross negligence, and reli­gious selfishness. The determination of whether evan­gelical preachers who proclaim salvation through Christ alone are guilty of religious bigotry or are admirable for religious altruism hinges entirely on the question of the truth of their message. That question Jesus answers with clarity: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostles faithfully maintain this mes­sage: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

May God give us preachers grace to humbly continue in the pattern that has been set for us.

——

Quote taken from Scott M. Gibson, ed., Preaching to a Shifting Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 66.

Daddy, Did Jesus Do That?

My daughter Susannah is almost two. I love her just about to death. One of her favourite things to do (just like her daddy) is to go outside in the rain. It thrills her to no end to run around and splash in the puddles and get soaked by the falling rain.

A few nights ago when it was raining, we stayed outside and talked about where the rain comes from, who makes it, and who sends it. The answer, of course, is that the rain comes down from heaven and is sent by God. Throughout the Scriptures rain is a picture of God’s faithful provision even for unfaithful people.

Like most conversations with Susannah, I really didn’t think she was listening too carefully. She was wanting to get down and run around some more, not sit with daddy and philosophize about the biblical-theological import of rain. But as it turns out, she was actually listening closer than I thought.

Today, as we were outside (playing in the rain again), I pointed to ‘Auntie Janis’ car’ and said, ‘Look, Susie, it’s wet!’ As she always does, she reached out and touched the car to make sure daddy wasn’t pulling her leg. She looked at her now wet hand, then at me, and said, ‘Daddy, did Jesus do that?’

It’s a funny thing how words just sometimes have more impact when a child speaks them. 

The rain we were experiencing today was a result of Hurricane Ike. The answer to Susie’s question is the answer that so many people need to hear in this world today. ‘Yes, Jesus did that.’

Ah, to have the faith of a child. For us adults, there are a million follow-up questions. We are quick to try to justify God and show all the reasons why we would deny the plain truth that Jesus sent the storm: he would never desire suffering; he can never cause evil; he would never want anything bad to happen. And it goes on and on.

But the reality that we must face is that God controls the weather. God appeared to Job in a whirlwind. When Elijah prayed, it didn’t rain for 3.5 years. Jesus calmed the stom on the Sea of Galilee with zero effort. He reigns providentially over all creation and all weather-patterns. Whether you want to say ‘God sent it’ or ‘God didn’t stop it’ really makes no difference (although one is much truer than the other). Either way, it’s from the hand of God.

When God sends storms, it is mercy. It is mercy because it proclaims to all that the real storm of final judgement is coming. None of us can escape it. No early warning system or evacuation plan could ever save us from this. This very minor, very localized display of the power and the fury of God should cause us all to question, ‘Am I prepared to face the real thing?’

Survival kits, flashlights, thousands of jugs of bottled water will do us no good. When the end comes (and it will come in a flash, without TV networks showing us radar images days and weeks ahead of time), the only thing that will matter is whether we’ve trusted in Christ or something else. The storm is coming, and only the Christian, with his house built on the rock of Christ’s teachings will be able to withstand it. When the fury of God’s wrath beats on our shores, and the anger of his judgement floods our houses, only the Christian will escape.

The Christian is the one for whom there is no more wrath. All of it–the full storm front–has all been borne on Christ, and we are safe. The fury of the storm has been sated, and only the peace and calmness of God’s goodness remains for us.

Praise God for his merciful reminders in storms. Praise him for his mercies in Christ.

Passing It On

An old professor of mine used to say ‘The teacher’s questions become the students’ dogma.’ In other words, what the teachers fancies with, the students accept and develop.

Don Carson puts it a slightly different way. He relates the American Mennonite experience as somewhat paradigmatic of what can happen in any church setting. He says, roughly, that the first generation of Mennonites believed the gospel, and saw that it had certain social entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel and believed in the social entailments. The third generation denied the gospel, but was committed to the social entailments.

Every Christian parent and every Christian teacher I know wants to pass gospel-belief on to the next generation. But how do we do that? I would suggest, based on the above insights, that the way to pass the gospel on is to be excited about it.

As Carson has often related, he understands that as a teacher, most of what students hear will be forgotten. But what do students remember? Ultimately, students remember what excites their professors. Children will have impressed on their hearts and minds what was most important to their parents.

Do you want to pass gospel-belief on to the next generation? Then let me ask: What excites you? What occupies your thoughts? Your time? Your imaginations? Do you spend more time on hobbies than on developing gospel-passion and gospel-living?

Everyone laughs when children first begin to imitate their parents and do things we unwittingly do, but they clearly see. It’s funny. They are observant, they notice what we do, even when we don’t. Why would we expect any less when it comes to our spirituality?

What do you speak about most at home? What issues get you most passionate? What causes get you to get excited at the drop of a hat? What habits in your life are the most consistent? What priorities are evident in your home?

These are the things you will pass on… whether we are intentional about it or not.

So let’s be intentional! May it never be said of us that we passed on causes or diets or health-awareness or gender equality or views on parenting or anything that is less important and less eternally significant than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God’s Grace in Augustine’s Theology

The following excerpt is taken from the full article, available here.

In order to understand Augustine’s theology of God’s sovereign saving grace, one must first understand Augustine’s view of the will. According to Augustine (and all the ‘catholic’ church after him) the will was free, but only insofar as it would choose what it desired.13 ‘Without exception,’ he writes, ‘we all long for happiness. … All agree that they want to be happy, just as, if they were asked, they would all agree that they desired joy.’14 Augustine’s point is that although we all desire true happiness (which is found only in God), our wills alone are not strong enough to enable us to achieve it.

It is only in this context, when we understand man’s plight (he desires true happiness, but is not able to will himself to find it since it is found in God alone, in whom he cannot delight while he is in the flesh15), that we are now prepared to truly appreciate Augustine’s understanding of God’s grace: ‘Saving grace, converting grace, in Augustine’s view, is God’s giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all other joys and therefore sways the will.’16 Grace, then, is God’s active changing of our heart’s desires so that we can truly desire him above all else, freely choose him, and as we love him, find in him our true soul’s joy.17 Our wills are always free to choose to do those things which we delight in, but they are never free to choose what our wills will delight in.18 That is why we need God’s grace.

Since God’s grace is a free gift on which all of our heart’s desires and all of our salvation depends, God’s grace is necessary for more than just our conversion: it is necessary for true, ongoing, joyful obedience. Once converted, Augustine could pray, ‘Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! … All this makes clear, O holy God, that when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them.’19 As Piper sums up this aspect of Augustine’s theology of God’s grace he says this: ‘Grace governs life by giving a supreme joy in the supremacy of God.’20 As it is grace which converts us and causes us to obey, it is God’s sovereign grace which will keep us secure in him until the final day. Augustine’s theology of God’s grace is the understanding that would persist through the era of the early church and which would rise triumphantly again through Luther and Calvin in the Reformation. It has been passed on through the Puritans to the Evangelicals, and endures to this day as the historic orthodox Christian doctrine of God’s sovereign saving grace.

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13 Aurelius Augustine, Confessions (trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin; London, Eng: Penguin Books, 1961), 228-229. Augustine reasons that not all are able to willingly follow God, and there find the true happiness they seek, since ‘their will to do what they cannot do is not strong enough to enable them to do it’ (229).

14 Augustine, Confessions, 228.

15 Here Augustine cites Gal 5.17 (Confessions, 229).

16 Piper, Sovereign Joy, 59 (emphasis original).

17 The phraseology is intentionally chosen to be reminiscent of Augustine’s own conversion experience: ‘During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke? … How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose!You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honour, though not in the eyes of men who see all honour in themselves…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation’ (Confessions, 181; emphasis my own).

18 Thus, in another place, he could write, ‘If those things delight us which serve our advancement towards God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows.’ T. Kermit Scott, Augustine: His Thought in Context (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 203; as cited in Piper, Sovereign Joy, 59.

19 Confessions, 236.

20 Sovereign Joy, 61.

Desperate Need of Jesus

This morning I found myself finishing up the last few chapters of Luke and realizing again just how desperately I need Jesus.

I confess that for much of my Christian life I have seen my need of Jesus mainly in a soteriological sense (i.e. I need his vicarious death to accomplish forgiveness of my sins and so that I can be clothed with his righteousness). To be sure, that need is the burden of these chapters in Luke. Jesus himself, we are told, explained to his disciples ‘that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations’. This is why Jesus died, and this is what we need from him, first and foremost. That’s what Scriptures testify, and that’s what I believe.

But there’s more than that, though. I have so much more need of Jesus that I can see even just from these few chapters.

At the beginning of chapter 22 we are told that Satan enters into Judas. Half way through the chapter, Jesus says these words to Peter: ‘Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.’ Wow. God ordained that Jesus would be betrayed by Judas, who gave himself over to Satan, but when Satan wanted Peter, Jesus said no.

What stands between Satan and me? What stops Satan (or one of his workers) from entering me and working in me to do his bidding? What holds Satan back from causing my faith to fail? The will of God and the prayers of Jesus. I have great need of Jesus to pray for me and be merciful to keep me.

In a similar vein, I need Jesus to remember me. This was the request of the thief on the cross, that when Jesus would come into his kingdom, that he would remember–be favourable to, merciful to–this thief who was guilty of sin and crime and deserved nothing but death and punishment. How am I any different than the thief? I need Jesus to remember me, too.

In these chapters is recounted the literal, historic events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Paul would teach later (Rom 6), we have need of Christ’s death becoming our death to sin (and to the law). In this way, we die to sin and to the law, and are no longer held captive by it, to do its will. Rather, all who have baptized into Christ, having been unified with him in his death, have been made alive with him in his resurrection. I have great need of Christ’s resurrection, which makes me alive to God. Though formerly I was dead in transgressions and sins, now through Christ’s resurrection, I have been made alive to God, that I might do his will.

In the last chapter of Luke we read of the two walking to Emmaus, who meet up with Jesus, but can’t figure out that it’s him. Jesus describes himself as the fulfilment of everything that has come before (Moses and the Prophets), but they still don’t get it. It wasn’t until he broke bread with them that their eyes were opened. I have great need of Jesus to open my eyes to see him for who he is. I am foolish and slow of heart to believe the word of God, but his grace is sufficient to enable me to see with the eyes of faith.

The disciples (and the rest of humanity since!) are no different than the two on the road. When Jesus comes to them they don’t know what to make of him. They think all kinds of wrong thoughts about him (like, ‘Maybe he’s just a spirit or something?’). It wasn’t until Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that they could understand Jesus.

I have great need of Jesus opening my eyes to understand the Bible, in order for me to know him. Unless Jesus grants that my eyes be opened I can read the Bible till I die (or not read the Bible till I die) and I will never know Jesus. The only way to know him is from his word, and the only way to understand his word is if he opens our minds.

Man, am I needy!

And to think, that’s from only a few chapters…

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