Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Trinity (Page 3 of 4)

A Few Thoughts on Christian Freedom

I must confess: when Paul first asked me if I’d be willing to preach on one of GFC’s core values, I got excited. But when I found out the value he had in mind was freedom, my excitement was dampened. The notion of freedom isn’t something that has historically ‘fired me up.’ 

When I thought of freedom, the first thought in my mind is Christians taking liberty in moral issues and then when confonted, just chalking it up to ‘freedom.’ Knowing that it could be abused in this way, I wasn’t all that happy about preaching it as something we should pursue.

But that was before I studied it… and my mind was changed completely. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was super-excited to preach it!

I began the message by attempting to begin to answer the question, ‘What is Christian Freedom?’ Answering that question alone could be at least 3 sermons. Knowing that my answer would have to be somewhat incomplete because of time constraints, I gave this opening definition of Christian freedom:

Christian freedom is the ability to participate in the life of God so that our desires are conformed to his, our will becomes his, enabling us to always do what we want without necessity or coercion.

In other words, it is the ability to always act for our joy and for his glory—and have those two as one.

By ‘participate in the life of God,’ I meant

  1. Freedom of Access to God as Father
  2. Freedom from the Law in God the Son
  3. Freedom to Live in God the Spirit

Where once we had no freedom to approach God in prayer, now our prayers are acceptable and pleasing to him. Where once we had no freedom from the Law, but were at once both commanded to work and condemned to die, now we have freedom from works and freedom to rest in justification. Where once we had no freedom to please God or to do as we desired, now the Spirit of God indwells us, conforming our desires to his.

The more we participate in the life of Holy Trinity, the more we’re conformed to him from the inside-out. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, we gain true freedom of will so that we may choose and desire whatever we want, and since what we want is in line with the character of God, what brings us joy will be the same things that bring him glory. And he gives us the power to do it.

That’s a great thing to think about!

The Primacy of Praise to the Father

Sunday’s post reminded me of something that Dr Ware taught us in a contemporary theology course not too long ago. He challenged us to develop our Trinitarian categories, and to work hard for clarity in the distinctions between the persons of the Godhead.

One challenging example he gave was that of Ephesians 1. How many times have we read Ephesians 1 and gloried in the amazing grace of God which called us, sought us, won us, and keeps us? Too many to count! And yet, how many times have we thought seriously about the pronoun ‘he’ / ‘him’ / ‘his’ in that passage? To whom does that refer in which instance?

It is important to understand whose grace we are revelling in, and whose praise all of this is for. After all, getting the praise of ‘his’ glorious grace right is the very point of the passage!

Admittedly, the pronouns in the passage can seem a tad difficult to identify. Here is Dr Ware’s interpretation (based on the ESV translation):

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places [i.e. Praise the Father who gives blessings through the work of Christ, mediated to us by the Holy Spirit], even as [the Father] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be blameless before [the Father]. In love [the Father] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ [to the Father] according to the purpose of [the Father’s] will, to the praise of [the Father’s] glorious grace, with which [the Father] has blessed us in [his beloved Son]. In [the Son] we have redemption through [the Son’s] blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of [the Father’s] grace, which [the Father] lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of [the Father’s] will, according to [the Father’s] purpose, which [the Father] set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.

In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of [the Father] who works all things after the counsel of [the Father’s] will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of [the Father’s] glory. In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in [Christ], were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of [the Father’s] glory.

If we were to praise God for his work in salvation, based on this text, the praise would necessarily be Trinitarian. All the members of the Godhead have their roles, and the glory of all three is extolled. But whose glorious grace should be the centre of our attention and praise, based on these verses?

Is this reflected in your prayer life? How about your private worship? Why are we so quick to abandon the primacy of praise to the Father for his work in salvation?

Beware the Pendulum

It seems that in theology, as in the rest of life, we’re constantly riding a pendulum. The more we run from doctrinal error that we see in others, the more likely we are to fall into the opposite error ourselves.

If we reject an over-emphasis on God’s love as the basis of his character, we run the the risk of focusing too much on his justice or transcendence. If we seek to reject the feminist tide of our culture and hold to biblical distinctions between male and female, we run the risk of keeping women back from the legitimate ways that they are to serve and minister in the body of Christ. The examples are endless, and for every false doctrine there is an equally-wrong opposite reaction offered in an attempt to correct it.

Tim Challies made a comment once, when reviewing a Brian McLaren book, that McLaren appears to love Jesus, but to hate God (i.e. the Father). Bruce Ware made a nearly identical statement in a theology course I took with him recently. They both made the statement because… well… it’s true. But here’s what concerns me–I wonder how far we are from being the same.

I would never suggest that anyone at GFC or in our circles hates the Father. But I do wonder how our love for him compares to our love for Christ.

For whatever reason, the tide of our Christian culture seems to be waxing strong in our love for and devotion to Christ. Perhaps because of the resurgent emphasis on biblical as opposed to systematic theology. Maybe it is the fact that we tend to focus more on the fulfilment of our salvation, rather than the promise and story leading up to it. Maybe it is our culture’s disdain of authority (and especially authority held by a male, patriarchal figure). Maybe it is just the fact of Christ’s ‘like-us-ness’ that makes it easier for us to imagine him. Regardless of the reason, it is far more common to hear a Christian these days talking about their love for Christ than it is to hear a Christian talk about their love for the Father.

Growing in our love for Christ is always a good thing. But growing in our love for Christ at the expense of our love for the Father is not a good thing. But is this a genuine problem?

Think through the songs you sing in church. Think through the Bible reading you like to do most. Think through your conversations you’ve had recently with fellow believers. How central to your conversation, your reading, or your worship is Father himself, distinct from the other members of the Trinity? Are the affections of your heart warmed the same way when you think of God the Father as when you think of Jesus?

It was the Father’s will to create. It was the Father who chose us to be in Christ before the foundations of the world. It was the Father who planned in eternity past to send Christ, the Father who promised Christ, and the Father who carried out that plan. It was the Father’s will to crush Jesus to save you. It was the Father who had to withhold his wrath for thousands of years and then bear it all on his only true Son, thus breaking an eternity of perfect union and unbroken fellowship. It was the Father who looked away from Christ in anger in order to look to you with grace.

It was the Father’s plan to send his true Son to make you an adopted Son. It is the Father who gives you his Spirit. It is the Father who holds the king’s heart in his hand, who governs all this according to the counsel of his will, and who will bring about the end of all things in the fulness of time. It is the Father’s throne on which Christ sits, and to whom Christ will return the kingdom at the end of time. 

How is your love for the Father?

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! – Conclusion

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.

5. CONCLUSION

Stephen Neill is indeed correct in his summation, that “the Christian finds that he can never think of God without thinking of Jesus Christ, and that he can never think of Jesus Christ without thinking of God.”[1] In the NT, the faith of the apostles and the early church is seen to be one which is profoundly centred on the person of Jesus. His deity is inherent in the authority with which he acts in the gospels, it is transparent in the titles of κύριος and θεός as ascribed to him throughout the NT, and it is powerfully evident as he is prayed to and worshiped by the church as a whole. It is experientially true for New Covenant believers that “even the Old Testament idea of God, magnificent as it is, no longer covers the Christian’s experience and has had to be radically transformed. Vast new dimensions have been added.”[2] We have spoken of great things, but it will never be enough. Endless eternities of exploration will never allow us to plumb the depths of the realities of this man-God; this conquering, victorious Lamb who loved me and gave himself for me. So let us begin now!


[1] Stephen Neill, What We Know About Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 83.

[2] Ibid.

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! – Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.

4. IN JESUS’ NAME: PRAYER TO AND WORSHIP OF JESUS AS GOD

Aside from being portrayed as deity by his authority in his earthly ministry, and declared to be both “Lord” and “God” throughout the NT, Jesus is also strongly implied to be deity by virtue of the activities which are carried out in his name by his followers.

A. PRAYER TO JESUS. Adolf Schlatter, in his discussion of the early church, speaks of the unifying effect of the doctrine of Christ as divine, and the unified church which resulted. The centrality of Jesus’ divinity

becomes clear in view of the community’s prayer. For its hallmark was that it called upon the name of Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:22; Rom. 10:13; Acts 9:21; 22:16; 7:59). Faith directed toward him finds its closest, most simple result in moving man to request his grace and help. The thought that Jesus could be called upon without calling upon God did not arise in the early church. It directed its adoration, its thanksgiving, and its petition to God.[1]

In other words, this monotheistic community of believers drew together in prayer to Jesus Christ by virtue of their belief in his deity. The NT bears witness to this reality, as is shown by his citations. To his list may be added 1 Cor 16.22; 2 Cor 12.8; and Rev 22.20.[2] This is a remarkable fact for God-fearing Jews who understood that there is only one God who created the heavens and the earth, and who is able to answer prayer (Dt 6.4; 2 Kgs 19.15).

B. WORSHIP OF JESUS. Heb 1.6 declares that not only men, but also the angels of God are to worship Jesus, and this is the pattern that is laid down for us in the records of the earliest Christians. Throughout the NT “doxologies are addressed to him, either alone (Rom. 9:5 … 2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Pet 3:18; Rev. 1:5f.) or with the Father (Rev. 5:13; 7:10).”[3]

Nor is the worship of Jesus something which is seen to decrease as the church grew. Rather, the book of Revelation records some of the most glorious scenes of Jesus being worshiped.

The lamb in Revelation is both Redeemer and Ruler, the Judge who died for his people, the Lamb-God, who is both slain and triumphant, Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).[4]

Along similar lines as Woodbridge, Newman notes that “in a book that venerates God’s omnipotence in unprecedented ways, it is surprising to find that Revelation also openly encourages and models the worship of the enthroned Jesus.”[5] Several examples of this may be given, including 1.6; 5.9, 12, 15; 7.10; and 12.10. He continues, “Revelation legitimates and promotes the worship of Jesus and God—the worship of Jesus as God—and it does so at the very places where God is worshiped and with the very language that is used to venerate God.”[6]

Commenting on Rev 1.6, Mounce concludes that this is an “ascription to Christ of glory and dominion forever and ever. In this context, ‘glory’ is praise and honor, and ‘dominion’ connotes power and might. … The statement is both a confident assertion about the exalted Christ and an exhortation to regard him correspondingly,” which is—among other things—to worship him as the true, conquering King of kings and Lord of lords (19.16).[7]


[1] Schlatter, Theology of the Apostles, 365.

[2] Packer, God’s Words, 49.

[3] Ibid.

[4] P.D. Woodbridge, “Lamb,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 622.

[5] Newman, “God,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, 428.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 50.

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! – Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.

3. JESUS AS KURIOS AND THEOS (cont’d)

B. JESUS AS THEOS. Many of the passages which may speak of Jesus as θεός are heavily debated, and some with good reason. The ones which most certainly do refer to Jesus as θεός are John 1.1; 20.28; Rom 9.5; Tit 2.13; Heb 1.8; and 2 Pet 1.1.[1] For our purposes we will need to limit ourselves to a discussion of Rom 9.5 and John 20.28.

Rom 9.5 is famously difficult to translate on account of the great role to be played by punctuation absent from the original. As Witherington sums up, “the argument turns on whether the verse should be read ‘the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever’ (as the NRSV has it), or ‘the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever’ (as JB, NIV, and the marginal reading of NRSV have it).”[2] Schreiner observes that most objections to Christ being here referred to as θεός “though diverse, boil down to one fundamental objection: it is improbable that Christ would be called θεός since this is uncharacteristic of Paul elsewhere.”[3]

This argument, however, from external tendencies and based on limited evidence must not be allowed to overrule plain grammatical evidence. “The natural antecedent to ὁ ὢν is Χριστὸς, for doxologies are virtually always attached to the preceding word and asyndetic doxologies do not exist.”[4] Again, grammatically, “it is easier and more natural to maintain an identity of subject from ὁ Χριστὸς to ὁ ὢν, since there is grammatical concord between the noun and the participle, than it is to assume a change of subject.”[5] Therefore, in this passage there are three distinct affirmations made about Christ: “he is Lord of all, he is God by nature, and he will be eternally praised.”[6]

In John 20.28 the grammar is much simpler and less debated. While there are several alternatives given by various commentators, they are quickly refuted by Harris as unlikely for lack of evidence which, when present, is based largely on Classical tendencies. Rather, the simplest—and best attested—way to understand Thomas’ cry is as a vocatival address to Jesus himself.[7] Köstenberger points out that “in the OT, ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ are frequently juxtaposed with reference to Yahweh (e.g. Ps. 35:23-24),” just as they are here to Jesus.[8]

Where it is objected that Thomas’ confession, as recorded in this passage, is too developed for coming only one week after Easter, it must be remembered that (1) there is little evidence to suggest that such Christological titles took time to evolve, and, (2) there are accounts in the Jewish OT—with which Thomas would have been familiar—where men found themselves talking with a man, only to discover to their shock, that it was Yahweh himself. Moreover, the repeated pronoun μου makes Thomas’ confession of faith intensely personal, thus fitting together with the purpose of the book expressed in the immediate context (v 31).[9] This confession of Jesus as ὁ θεός μου also functions to form a literary bookend with John 1.1 and 1.18, where Jesus is also referred to as θεός. “In the Johannine narrative, the evangelist desires that the reader respond in the same way Thomas did.”[10]


[1] The most extensive work on this is Murray J. Harris’ book, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), where he deals in-depth with these and several other texts.

[2] Ben Witherington III, “Jesus as the Alpha and Omega of New Testament Thought,” in Contours of Christology, ed. Longenecker, 35.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 487.

[4] Ibid., 488.

[5] Harris, Jesus as God, 171.

[6] Ibid., 167.

[7] Ibid., 110-111.

[8] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 579.

[9] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 658-659.

[10] Köstenberger, John, 579.

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! – Part 3

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.

3. JESUS AS KURIOS AND THEOS

A. JESUS AS KURIOS. It must be noted first that we are not primarily dealing with the gospels in this section, since “when people address Jesus as ‘Lord’ in the Gospels, this is often no more than a customary polite form of address.”[1] Rather, we will aim more narrowly at the post-resurrection narratives in Acts and the canonical epistles of the early church.

In the book of Acts, following the account of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the word κύριος takes on new significance for the earliest Christians. As C.C. Newman observes,

The resurrection undeniably revealed Jesus’ true identity as the divine Lord, the kyrios (Acts 2:36). Numerous times within the narrative does Acts specifically identify Jesus as the ‘Lord’ (Acts 1:6, 21; 4:33; 7:59; 8:16; 9:5-6; 11:17, 20; 15:11, 26; 16:30; 19:5, 13; 20:21, 24; 21:13; 22:8; 26:15; in many other places implied). By employing the same word used by the Septuagint to translate the divine name (i.e., Yahweh) as a title for Jesus, Acts comes close to binitarianism.[2]

Trejer agrees, noting that while during his lifetime “Lord” was merely a term of respect akin to “sir” in modern usage, after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension “its use as the Greek equivalent of the OT Yahweh becomes significant.”[3]

This significance is carried on from Acts into the epistles of the early church. Of particular significance are the NT passages where OT texts specifically referring to Yahweh are said to be fulfilled in Christ, who is κύριος.[4] One such text is found in Phil 2.9-11. Here Trejer notes that

Paul uses this name to identify Jesus with Israel’s covenant God—in shocking fulfillment of a strong monotheistic text, Isa. 45:21-24. The exaltation of a human being to share in what was, and is now fully revealed to be, Yahweh’s identity was a remarkable claim.[5]

In this particular context it is essential to note the importance of both names in general, and of the name of Jesus in particular. “In ancient thought a ‘name’ was employed not only as a means of distinguishing one person from another but also as ‘a means of revealing the inner being, the true nature of that individual’.”[6] So in a context where names are significant for identifying the essence of the person it is especially significant to note, with O’Brien the following:

The name (τὸ ὄνομα is definite) greater than any other that God conferred on Jesus as a gracious gift (ἐχαρίσατο) is his own name, κύριος (‘Lord’), in its most sublime sense, that designation used in the LXX to represent the personal name of the God of Israel, that is, Yahweh.[7]

O’Brien concludes by noting the greatness of this honour by viewing this statement in light of Is 42.8: “ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεός τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ ὄνομα τὴν δόξαν μου ἑτέρῳ οὐ δώσω.” Other passages of similar thrust and importance include 1 Cor 8.6; 12.3; Heb 1.10-12; Rev 19.16, however, space restrictions will not allow for in-depth discussion of these passages here.[8]


[1] I.H. Marshall, “Jesus Christ,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 599. For some possible exceptions to this, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 544-545. Among the more plausible are Matt 3.3; 22.44; Luke 1.43; 2.11, 18. Nevertheless, the normal use of κύριος throughout the gospels is still simply a “polite address to a superior” (544).

[2] C.C. Newman, “God,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 416.

[3] Trejer, “Jesus Christ”, 364.

[4] See, for some examples, Matt 3.3; Mark 1.3; Acts 2.21; Rom 10.9, 13; 1 Cor 12.3.

[5] Trejer, “Jesus Christ”, 364.

[6] Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 237.

[7] Ibid., 238. Emphasis original.

[8] For a more extended discussion of κύριος implying Jesus’ deity, see J.I. Packer, God’s Words (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus), 48-51.

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