“The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God — the grace of God which depends not one whit upon anything that is in man, but is absolutely undeserved, resistless and sovereign. The theologians of the Church can be placed in an ascending scale according as they have grasped that one great central doctrine, that doctrine that gives consistency to all the rest; and Christian experience also depends for its depth and for its power upon the way in which that blessed doctrine is cherished in the depths of the heart. The center of the Bible, and the center of Christianity, is found in the grace of God; and the necessary corollary of the grace of God is salvation through faith alone.”
– J. Gresham Machen, quoted in Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids, 1955), page 396.
Archive for October, 2013
A MYSTERY IN PAUL’S WRITINGS is not normally something “mysterious,” still less a whodunit. It is a truth or a doctrine which in some measure has been kept hidden in previous generations, and now with the coming of the Gospel has been disclosed and made public. Sometimes the Gospel itself is treated as a mystery; more commonly, some element of the Gospel is labeled a mystery.
In Ephesians 3:2–13, Paul insists that, along with other “apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5), he enjoys deep insight into “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4–5). Then he tells us the content of this mystery: “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6).
We should reflect on the ways in which this mystery was hidden. Certainly the Old Testament Scriptures sometimes anticipate the extension of the grace of God to men and women of all races. The Abrahamic covenant foresaw that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; see meditation for January 11). What is hidden about that? Yet the fact remains that the space devoted in the Bible to the Law of Moses, coupled more importantly with the rising body of interpretation that made Mosaic Law the interpretive grid that controlled the reading of much of the Old Testament, ensured that this broader emphasis was often lost to view. So on the one hand, this hiddenness can be viewed as a careful plan of God to hide the glory of “his eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11) until the time was ripe for it to be unfolded; on the other, this hiddenness owes something to human perversity, reading the Old Testament Scriptures in a way that domesticates and dwarfs the true dimensions of Old Testament promises.
With the coming of Christ Jesus, the ways in which the Old Testament books pointed forward were made incalculably clearer. Jesus’ Great Commission stamped the mission of his disciples with an internationalism that shames all parochialism. Above all, Jesus’ understanding of the Old Testament established some new paradigms. Read properly, in its linear, historical sequence, the Old Testament storyline does not lay as much emphasis on the Law of Moses as some thought. Indeed, the Mosaic Covenant turns out to be a failure, in terms of how well it changed people. Its brightest success is in providing the models that predict what the ultimate Savior, the ultimate priest, the ultimate temple, the ultimate sacrifice, would look like. And Paul is the apostle who not only preaches thismystery, but does so to the Gentiles, the people most affected by its content.
from D.A. Carson’s blog
THE END OF GALATIANS 6 brings several themes together.
(1) Paul’s practice was to dictate his letters. Nevertheless, in order to authenticate them, he commonly wrote the last little bit in his own distinctive hand (compare 2 Thess. 3:17). So here (Gal. 6:11). Some have suggested that his “large letters” betray failing eyesight. That is possible but not certain. The important issue is that Paul wants his readers to recognize the real voice behind this epistle.
(2) The agitators are trying to get the Galatian Gentile believers to accept circumcision (Gal. 6:12). That would make them (they thought) good Jews—a necessary condition for them to become genuine Christians. Yet Paul detects that at least part of their motivation is to maintain acceptability in Jewish synagogue circles. At this stage in the church’s history, most persecution came from synagogue councils exerting discipline. Paul himself had suffered his share: the thirty-nine lashes, endured five times (2 Cor. 11), was a synagogue punishment. Paul holds that some Jews who call themselves Christians and who insist that Gentile Christians become Jews are simply unwilling to face the opprobrium they will have to suffer from some fellow Jews if their closest “brothers” and “sisters” are unkosher Gentiles.
(3) Not only so, but circumcision was a mark of professed covenant fidelity. Here, Paul insists, lies the real problem: those who have been circumcised find it impossible to “obey the law,” so why should they try to compel others to go down that track (Gal. 6:13)? Some of them want to count converts to Judaism like scalps on a spear. But Paul insists that the Christian boasts in nothing but the cross of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 6:14). That is the sole basis of our acceptance before God, nothing else—not circumcision, not law-keeping, not kosher tables, not belonging to the right community. The sole ground is the cross, so that is our sole “boast.” If you believe that, what the world thinks will matter little: it is as if the world has been crucified so far as you are concerned, and you are crucified so far as it is concerned.
(4) Out of this cross-work of Jesus Christ rises the “new creation” (Gal. 6:15). That is what counts—men and women so transformed, because of faith in Jesus, that they belong to the new creation still to be consummated. This is invariably true, even for “the Israel of God”—which might refer to the church as the true Israel, or may be saying that racial Israel must face this truth the same as everyone else.
(5) At the personal level, Paul quietly reminds his Galatian readers that he has paid for his beliefs in suffering. Can the agitators claim the same? So why should any true Christian now be adding to Paul’s sufferings?
from D.A. Carson’s blog
“Christ, according to Paul, will do everything or nothing; if righteousness is in slightest measure obtained by our obedience to the law, then Christ died in vain; if we trust in slightest measure in our own good works, then we have turned away from grace and Christ profiteth us nothing.
To the world, that may seem to be a hard saying; but it is not a hard saying to the man who has ever been at the foot of the cross; it is not a hard saying to the man who has first known the bondage of the law, the weary effort at establishment of his own righteousness in the presence of God, and then has come to understand, as in a wondrous flash of light, that Christ has done all, and that the weary bondage was vain. What a great theologian is the Christian heart–the Christian heart that has been touched by redeeming grace!
. . . That is the centre of the Christian religion–the absolutely undeserved and sovereign grace of God, saving sinful men by the gift of Christ upon the cross. . . . Everywhere the basis of the NT is the same–the mysterious, incalculable, wondrous, grace of God.”
– J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (1925), 193-95
GALATIANS 4 INCLUDES a couple of sections that have long prompted Christians to ponder exactly how Paul understands the history of Israel—especially the so-called “allegory” of 4:21–31. They attract a great deal of attention. Tucked into the middle of the chapter, however, are two short paragraphs that disclose a great deal of the apostle’s heart (Gal. 4:12–20), even though they are easily overlooked.
(1) The first (Gal. 4:12–16) finds the apostle pleading with the Galatians. He insists that his strong language with them has nothing to do with personal hurt: “You have done me no wrong” (Gal. 4:12). Indeed, he reminds them, the earliest stage of their relationship established a link Paul could never break. He first went among them, he says, “because of an illness” (Gal. 4:13). We cannot be sure what it was. Perhaps the best guess (though it is no more than a guess) is that Paul arrived by boat on the southern coast of what is now Turkey, and while ministering there contracted malaria or some other subtropical disease. The best solution in those days was to travel into the highlands—into the regions of the Galatians. There Paul found a people remarkably helpful and welcoming. As he preached the Gospel to them, they treated him as if he were “an angel of God” (Gal. 4:14). How could Paul possibly resent them or write them off? But tragically, their joy has dissipated. They have become so enamored with the alien outlook of the agitators that they view Paul as an enemy because he tells them the truth (Gal. 4:16).
Here, then, is an apostle intimately involved in the lives of the people to whom he preaches, ready and eager to engage with them out of the complex history of their relationships, yet unwilling to compromise the truth in order to smooth out those relationships. In Paul, integrity of doctrine must stand with integrity in relationships; they are not to be pitted against each other.
(2) Paul perceives and gently exposes a deep character flaw in the Galatians: they love zealous people, not the least those who are zealously pursuing them, without carefully evaluating the direction of the zeal (Gal. 4:17–20). Paul warns: “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good” (Gal. 4:18). Unable to communicate by telephone or e-mail and thus have an instant update, the apostle is uncertain how best to proceed. Should he continue his rebuke? Should he now change his tone and woo them? He feels like a mother who has to go through the agony of labor a second time to bring to birth all over again the child she has already borne.
Should contemporary pastors and leaders care less for those in their charge who stray?
From D.A. Carson’s blog
Regeneration (excerpt) by Matthew Barrett
Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit to unite the elect sinner to Christ by breathing new life into that dead and depraved sinner so as to raise him from spiritual death to spiritual life, removing his heart of stone and giving him a heart of flesh, so that he is washed, born from above and now able to repent and trust in Christ as a new creation. Moreover, regeneration is the act of God alone and therefore it is monergistic in nature, accomplished by the sovereign act of the Spirit apart from and unconditioned upon man’s will to believe. In short, man’s faith does not cause regeneration but regeneration causes man’s faith.
In Deuteronomy 30:6 we read, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” If the circumcision of the heart refers to regeneration (cf. Rom. 2:25–27), then to what purpose does God promise to circumcise the heart? He circumcises the heart “so that” his people will love the Lord. The Lord does not circumcise their hearts “because” they acted in repentance and faith by loving the Lord. Rather, it is God’s sovereign act of circumcising the heart that causes the sinner to love him. Nowhere in Deuteronomy 30:6 do we see any indication that God’s sovereign act of circumcising the heart is conditioned on the will of man to believe. Rather, it is quite the opposite. The Lord must first circumcise the heart so that the sinner can exercise a will that believes.
– Matthew Barrett, from his booklet, What is Regeneration? by P&R Publishing
There is a great danger every Sunday that we would be stirred and not changed. We come to church, feel a little something, but it turns out to be nothing but a little Jesus inoculation–just enough of the virus to keep you from getting the real thing. If God is working on you next Sunday, don’t waste it. Don’t rush on from the word to the rest of life. Find someone to pray with you. Have that conversation you need to have. Don’t turn on the football game the second you walk back in the house.
All three articles are great
“How to Be Better Bereans (1 of 3)” http://feedly.com/k/17G9sdh