Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Trinity (page 1 of 4)

Our God Has a Name

yhwhOur God is personal. He relates. Fundamental to his very existence is the reality that he exists as a person in community. From eternity past the Father has loved the Son (John 17:24). He is a personal, relational-covenant-keeping God.

And because he is personal, he has a name. I think it might be time for us to familiarize ourselves with it again.

Lately I’ve been reading Michael Reeves’ excellent book titled, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Here’s an insight that resonated with me.

For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. 1

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Notes:

  1. Kindle edition, location 156.

Quick Defence of the Trinity

The Holy TrinityIn his book, God’s Words, JI Packer recounts a time when he was provoked by a Jehovah’s Witness ‘heckler’ to defend the notion of the Trinity from the New Testament. Apparently the ‘heckler’ didn’t know who he was heckling.

Packer, in the moment, decided to follow a specific line of argumentation that is quick, and I believe, helpful. Even if it’s not an exhaustive defence, I believe it’s a faithful one that many could benefit from meditating on. Here it is:
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The Objective-Subjective Spirit

 

One of the many joys of pastoring is seeing Christians grow in their love for one another and in their unity of fellowship, despite various church backgrounds. What becomes apparent when Christians from different backgrounds get together is that depending on what kind of a church experience you come from, you may have a radically different understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work than some of your friends and fellow church-members.

Objective or Subjective Work?

Some of us tend to conceive of his ministry as more objective: his work is done to us. He regenerates, he gives faith, he seals, he protects until the end. That is glorious!

But for others of us, there is a tendency to conceive of the Spirit’s ministry in more subjective categories: his work is done in us. We feel his assurance, we’re equipped with gifts, we are prompted by his leading. And that is glorious too!

The reality is that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is dynamic. He is the Spirit of truth who opens our eyes and affects our hearts. He is the one who gives us life and sustains it. He brings our salvation and completes it. He is intimately involved in us because of what he has done to us.
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On Every Page, Behind Every Line

The Big Question

Regardless of what age or part of the world you live in, one of the most central questions of the Christian faith is this: ‘Who is Jesus? Is he really God? Does the New Testament really teach that?’ While every orthodox believer quickly and heartily affirms that Jesus is in fact divine, many believers struggle with how exactly to prove that to friends & neighbours.

An ancient manuscript

While the New Testament does at times simply refer to Jesus as God (see the list here), frankly, it can be hard sometimes for many Christians to find passages that express as clearly and succinctly as we would like that Jesus is God. That’s in large part because the writers of the New Testament simply were not writing a systematic theology. They were writing to real people with real life problems and real church problems. So what we find is that more often than not the New Testament authors are addressing life’s issues in such a way that presumes the deity of Christ, without necessarily spelling it out for us.

The Basic Truth

So it’s kind of like me writing to you about how to play hockey. I may write about learning to shoot, pass, block shots, throw body checks, win faceoffs, and maybe even skate, but all the while I might not explicitly state that ice is actually frozen water. It’s understood. It’s the basis of all that we’re doing. You can’t play hockey without ice (at least not real hockey), and you can’t live as a Christian without knowing that Jesus is God.

All that being said, on every page, behind every line, this majestic truth stands: Jesus is the promised incarnation of God, the Son of God, the one who reigns. He himself is to be worshiped and served as God, because he is God. And that truth is everywhere, upholding and undergirding everything.

Here’s one little example from the passage we studied last week at GFC (1 Pet 5.1-4). In that passage, Peter admonishes elders to ‘shepherd the flock of God that is among you’ in a way that honours and pleases God, since all will be called to account. In particular, those who shepherd in this way will ‘receive the unfading crown of glory’ at the end of all things. Why? Because they have represented the true Shepherd, the ‘chief Shepherd,’ Jesus Christ.

You can read that quickly and move on, or you can stop and ponder what it means that Peter has just called Jesus the ‘chief Shepherd’ when he thought about the ‘flock of God.’ Those images are loaded with meaning from the Old Testament.

The Necessary Background

Psalm 78.52 says that, in the Exodus, ‘[God] led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.’ As you follow the Bible’s storyline it’s not long before you get to passages like Jeremiah 23-25 and Ezekiel 9 which speak words of condemnation on those who were supposed to be shepherds of God’s people (cf. Zech 10.3). Because they failed, the flock was scattered in exile. When the prophets speak of a return from exile, notice the language that is used:

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men. (Micah 2.12)

Like the first Exodus, this return from exile will be an expression of God’s deliverance, bringing his people, like a flock, to himself. But here’s what’s so significant: It is always Yahweh himself who will come as Shepherd. It is clear that when this great Shepherd comes to gather God’s people, it will be none other than God himself who brings the deliverance.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5.2-4)

Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:9-11)

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ (Jer 31.10)

As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. … And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezek 34.12; 31)

So behind Peter’s simple statement that the ‘chief Shepherd’ is Jesus lies a whole theology of the deity of Jesus, the Promised Divine Shepherd, the one who brings the deliverance of God’s people in the true Exodus. It’s on every page, in every line, behind every thought. Jesus is God.

Our Big Problem

But perhaps, in light of this example (and so many others like it), the reason why we don’t see the deity of Christ in the New Testament as clearly as we ought is not because we do not know our New Testament, but because we do not know the Old Testament like we ought. So here’s a suggestion: If you want to get to know Jesus better and see him more clearly, as the New Testament authors saw him, maybe you need to read your Old Testament more.

Does the New Testament Refer to Jesus as ‘God’?

Does the New Testament ever simply refer to Jesus as ‘God’? Absolutely! Though it is not the usual manner of asserting the divinity of Jesus (see here for a discussion of the diverse ways the NT speaks of Jesus as God), yet the NT does on several occasions simply ascribe to him the title ‘theos’ (the Greek word for ‘God’ typically reserved for God the Father).

Many texts are debated as to whether or not Jesus is referred to as theos (θεός), but the ones which most certainly do refer to Jesus as  are as follows (taken from the ESV):

John 1.1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 20.28: Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Rom 9.5: To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Titus 2.11-13: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Heb 1.8: But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

2 Pet 1.1: Simeon a Peter, a servant b and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

There are, of course, more texts which are debated, as to whether they refer to Jesus as Theos or not. The ones listed above are, however, the most certain grammatically, logically, and theologically.

I hope that bolsters your faith. The one we worship and serve, the one who saved us, the one for whose return we wait — he is true, Almighty God!

For more discussion on the texts above and several other debated texts, see Murray J. Harris, Jesus As God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Baker Academic, 1998).

Delighting in God in People

People

Two things have helped me begin to overcome my tendency towards being an anti-social introvert. One is circumstantial, the other is scriptural.

The circumstantial factor is the wife I married. I love my wife. Dearly. With all my heart. But when it comes to relating to people, in some respects, our natural tendencies couldn’t be any more different. She is energized by being with people. I am drained. She is never happier than when surrounded by people. My natural tendency is to thrive when completely alone.

When I read church history I have to fight the temptation to be jealous of the monks who’ve lived in complete isolation. Although I do worry about how I would eat — I’m pretty useless when it comes to food preparation. In any case, living with Stacey has changed me. Because she loves people, I’ve had to become accustomed to having people around. But honestly, God has used that to overcome much of the sinful tendencies towards isolation and self-protection in my life. So I’m thankful.

But that’s the circumstantial reason. The scriptural one is more important.

Back to the Beginning

The beginning is a good place to start. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but for much of my life I never considered relationships with other people in light of Gen 1-3. What a foolish mistake! Gen 1.26-27 says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Too Easy to Forget

Too often I simply forget these verses. I forget that humans are created in the image of God. They reflect him.  As an introvert, I like to get away from people to experience God — but nothing could be more unhelpful. While ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’, people are actually stamped with his image and likeness. God doesn’t say that about anything else — not mountains or meadows, oceans or starry skies. If you want to see God, look at people.

Now obviously we know the rest of the story: humans sin and the image of God is marred. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In my neighbour who drives me bananas and in my wife whom I love dearly, God’s image is there. The more we’re able to see that, the more we desire to see that, the more natural it will become to love people. Inasmuch as we already love our God, we’ll love people because they show us our God! The trick is getting to know people with this question in mind: ‘What do I see of my God in them?’

Essentially Communal

Notice also that when God (who, as Trinity, is an essentially communal being) wants to create mankind in his image he doesn’t create one person, but multiple people (‘Let us … in our image’ … ‘he created them‘). That’s important. We cannot reflect God as he desires to be reflected if we are alone. Each of us reflects to each other and each of us receives the blessing of seeing God as we live in community as see each other. We simply cannot delight in God if we are not living communal, relational lives, full of other people.

God is in the Differences

Both of our first parents were created in the image of God. And Adam was created to be different than Eve. And just like them, every person since reflects the image of God in a unique and different way.

I never used to think about that. I used to think that it was annoying when people were different than me. But by God’s grace, through this text, I’ve begun to see in recent years that what God was doing with Adam and Eve affects my relationships now. Just like Adam was to reflect something of God to Eve in the ways that he was different from her (and vice versa), so the people God has put in my life are different than me for a reason. They are different than me for this precise reason: God wants to show me something about himself by way of contrast.

The Greatest Commandment

Therefore, love. All the previous thoughts have helped me these past few years make more sense of Jesus’s understanding of the greatest commandment. Haven’t you ever wondered why, when he was asked for one greatest commandment, he gave two?

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt 22:36-39)

Of course he gave two. Because if you love God, you’ll love your neighbour. Because as you delight in God you see him everywhere — especially in other people. And as you love other people, you see God in them. And as you see God in them, you love God more, and you love them for showing you God. The two are one. You cannot love God without loving people who are made in his image. And you cannot truly delight in people without seeing God in them.

So I Need Grace

I pray that God will give me grace to continue to see him in people — especially in our differences — so that I would delight in them and love them so that I might delight in him and love him. I pray for this grace in increasing measure for many years to come.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Trinity

It’s a funny twist of providence that I paused my series for a day in between the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was not intentional, but it does illustrate something of the way I’ve tended to (erroneously) view the Spirit in my life. While always loving the doctrine of the Trinity, my practice has sadly been to actually neglect the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not entirely sure why that’s been. Sometimes the excesses of others (the Benny Hinns of the world) scare me away from pursuing the Holy Spirit. And other times a bad application of a good doctrine (like the perpiscuity of the Scriptures) can lead me to think that I don’t really need the Holy Spirit since the Holy Scriptures are clear enough. Either way, I was dead wrong.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I attended the WorshipGod ’06 conference hosted by Bob Kauflin and co. at Sovereign Grace Ministries that I really had to deal with Christian brothers and sisters who love the Scriptures, love the doctrines of grace, but who are eager and intent on experiencing the Spirit in their lives in all of the ways he was active in the New Testament. (See some of the reflections I had after that conference here.)

I could post lots of things about what I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit over the past few years, and how I’ve observed his role in new and dynamic ways both in the Scriptures and in the life of the church and in my own personal life. Instead what I’m going to do is just try pose two questions I’ve learned to ask myself in order to experience the Spirit more the past few years and then reflect on how that changes my approach to Sundays in particular and fellowship in general.

1. Am I Seeking to Actually Hear?

One of the positive traits I’ve picked up from my time hanging out with my friends from Sovereign Grace churches is that they have a unique expectancy that the Spirit can and will speak to them at any moment. As you arrive at church on Sunday, as you fellowship with your friends through the week, as you spend time in prayer and confession, what is your default posture? Is it one of expectancy?

Mine wasn’t for a long time. Too many times I thought of conversations with other believers as just that: conversations with people. I never paused to consider or to ask, ‘Could the Spirit be speaking through this person and using this conversation to help bring truth to bear on my life?’ Considering the Spirit as the source of genuine fellowship between believers (again, whether at church or not) helps me to expect great things of conversations. It also helps me to listen better to sermons, and helps me to engage in corporate prayer. Where is God leading? What’s he saying to my heart?

Do I expect that the Spirit will use this or not? If I’m not listening it’s no wonder I don’t hear anything. If I live like he’s not there it’s no wonder I don’t experience the wonder of his presence.

2. Am I Seeking to Hear Where He is Seeking to Be Heard?

You don’t have to be a Christian long before you run into someone who recounts how God, through some twist of providence, ‘told them’ to do something irrational (and sometimes even unbiblical!). That’s a danger that we can run into when we’re expecting to hear from God. We can think we are hearing from him when we’re really, truly not.

So how can we know the difference? God has revealed himself. Part of that revelation tells us where and how he will continue to reveal himself to his people. He has spoken ultimately in Jesus and revealed Jesus to us in the Bible, and the Spirit will continue to bring that truth to life as we read it and meditate on it (the Spirit is the reason the word is living and active). The Spirit will continue to unveil the Father in the face of Jesus in the written word.

He speaks through his people, when they speak truth to each other. The Spirit indwells and leads people so that as they experience truth in the Bible and then speak of it with brothers & sisters, the Spirit makes that experience communal.

He speaks through the means of music and worship. As we rejoice in biblically faithful songs, God’s Spirit takes that truth and affects us in new and fresh ways.

And the Spirit speaks through preaching. He always has. It’s foolishness. As a preacher I can tell you that honestly, just like the apostle Paul could. But God uses it. And when the gospel is preached and people receive it as it really is (the word of God!) it take root and brings fruit (1 Thess 2.13).

So it’s Sunday…

As I prepare myself for Sundays now I try to pray and ask God make me receptive to the prompting of his Spirit–both to listen and to speak. I want to fellowship in the truth of the revealed word with God’s people, fully expecting that his Spirit will indwell his temple and that the God who speaks will make his presence known. I pray that my default disposition everyday–and especially Sunday–would be one of actually listening, with expectation of hearing from the Holy Spirit, who is himself God.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

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