Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Grace (page 2 of 3)

He Spoke

Last night at the dinner table, we were discussing our Fighter Verse for this week at church (Exodus 34.6-7). When God speaks about himself, the first thing he says is, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…’. I asked the two older girls which of those things about God was their favourite.

One of our girls thought that ‘merciful’ might be her favourite, but she wasn’t sure what mercy was. So we tried helping her understand the difference between mercy and grace. DA Carson talks about the difference between mercy and grace in this way:

The two terms are frequently synonymous; but where there is a distinction between the two, it appears that grace is a loving response when love is undeserved, and mercy is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one on whom the love is to be showered. Grace answers the undeserving; mercy answers the miserable. (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Confrontation with the World, 24-25)

Now, of course I didn’t cite Carson to my four year-old. But we did try to show her that grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s goodness to those (like us) who don’t deserve to know his goodness and couldn’t help ourselves. I think they got it.

So I asked them, ‘What are some ways that God has been merciful to us?’ I expected the usual Sunday School answers (‘Jesus!’) and not much more. What one of my daughters said, though, really gave me cause to pause and consider. She simply said ‘He spoke.’

Continue reading

Why Does Grace Amaze Christians?

One amazing thing about Christians is that we don’t sing because we like to sing, but because the grace that we have received from God makes us sing. It’s not that we’re commanded to sing, but that we’re compelled to sing.

Grace, rightly beheld, always moves the heart to thankfulness and worship that must be shared. And so we sing.

But what is it that is so amazing to us about grace? Why does it make us sing? Consider these lines from some of the songs we sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

Alas! And did my Saviour bleed, and did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?
Was it for sins that I had done he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!

He left His Father’s throne above—So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology defines grace as God’s ‘goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.’ That’s why it’s amazing to us. Before a holy God, with our sinful hearts and deeds exposed we are wretched and helpless — as lowly as a worm. And yet, God has been infinitely good to us.

Continue reading

Godly Gossip?

What the Bible Says about Gossip

Can gossip ever be godly? Certainly not by the standard definition of the word. Here’s a quick glance at some of the proverbs about gossip:

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler. (Proverbs 20:19)
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered (Proverbs 11:13)
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)

What is so evil about gossip? It springs from a heart of competition; the gossiper desires people to think more of them than what they think of the person being gossiped about. Gossip is evil because it runs down those who are not present to defend themselves. Rather than speaking what is good for building up, it actually tears down. It gives us reason to think less of the person being talked about.

Could Gossip Be redeemed?

But what if the desire were reversed? And what if the effect was reversed? Could there be a godly form of gossip? Could we find a way to speak of those not present in a way that would honour their God and edify those who hear?

Continue reading

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.

I Love My God

This morning I was reading from Leviticus 19. In the midst of a long string of commands, where God’s people are told what they must either do or not do in order to be holy as their God is holy, God gives these instructions.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 

In these books of Law we find all kinds of laws that we would expect: Don’t murder; don’t steal; don’t take someone else’s wife; if you’re a judge, don’t take a bribe; if you kill an unborn baby, you are guilty before God; all kinds of laws like that. But then there are times when we come across passages like this one that can just seem totally unexpected.

Our God’s justice is not like our justice. Intrinsic to the founding of ‘the City of God’ is this notion that the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner must find a home. They must be taken care of. Why? Because it is a reflection of God’s heart for the downtrodden. If God’s people are to be holy, as he is holy, they must reflect the same heart as him: the poor must be comforted.

So how does that translate into the new covenant? I would suggest that we see this fulfilled in no less than three ways as we live in the current ‘City of God’.

  1. Jesus’ message could be summarized this way: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 4.17). This call to repentance is filled out a little more in this way: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5.3). In other words, the kingdom of heaven has come, and is possessed by those who are poor–in spirit. These are the ones who are broken over their sin before a holy God (Matt 5.4); the ones who realize they are not perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5.48). They are therefore quick to show mercy, as God has shown them mercy (Matt 5.7; 39-47; 6.14-15; 7.1-5). This is the exact same calling as those citizens of the City of God in the OT received (Lev 19.33-34).
  2.  

  3. Just as the thrust of the commands throughout the OT were to be kind to the poor in their midst, so in the NT, kingdom citizens are to be abundantly merciful and generous to meet the needs of other kingdom citizens. The early church did not miss this at all, but saw it quite clearly (Acts 2.44-45). The emphasis must be placed here: the first place we must give and look after the poor is in our own midst–this was so in the OT, just as it is in the NT (see also Gal 6.9-10).
  4.  

  5. The Christian must be known as one who does not withhold the wages of the labourer, but gives to each what is due. The cries of even the unbeliever, when he is oppressed, will reach the ears of the Lord and the one who has withheld good from him, will bear his guilt (Jas 5:1-6). The Christian must never be known as one who values his money more than he values people; this would not reflect the character of our God at all.

I love my God because he cares for the spiritually poor (broken) and the destitute. He is a God of mercy, compassion, and grace–this is clearly revealed in both testaments. If we are to be his ‘City’ then we must reflect his character, his person, his passions. We must show mercy to others, as he has shown mercy to us.

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.

————————–

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…

Older posts Newer posts

© 2017 Julian Freeman

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑