Gospel living: lives patterned on the cross and resurrection (2)

2. Power to be weak

We not only follow the way of the cross, we also experience the power of the resurrection. We have the Spirit, the Spirit of the coming age, the empowering, liberating, life-giving Spirit. But it’s vital to see how the power of the resurrection and the way of the cross fit together.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection … (Philippians 3:10)

[Christ] lives by God’s power … by God’s power we will live with him. (2 Corinthians 13:4)

We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way … being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might … (Colossians 1:10-11)

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline … (2 Timothy 1:7-8)

All these verses contain a wonderful truth. We have Christ’s resurrection power in us through the Holy Spirit. But the verses goes on:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death … (Philippians 3:10)

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. (2 Corinthians 13:4)

We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way … being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience … (Colossians 1:10-11)

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God … (2 Timothy 1:7-8)

We have resurrection power so we can be like Christ in his death. Power to be weak. Power to endure. Power to suffer. That is true Christian experience. Power in weakness is our boast (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We are people of power. We have resurrection power coursing through our bodies. God’s mighty power, pulling Christ from the grave, is in your life. But we don’t have this power for victory over suffering, for an easy life, to lord it over others.

We have power to follow the way of the cross. To serve. To suffer. To love. To die.

It is in this way that we reveal Christ to people. ‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7)

One day the skies will be filled with the glory of God. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord to the glory of God. One day. But already his resurrection glory is being revealed. It is being revealed in your home. In your street. In your workplace. In your school. It is being revealed as you follow the way of the cross: as you deny yourself, as you serve others, as you love Jesus.
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Gospel living: lives patterned on the cross and resurrection

Christians are united by faith with Christ in his death and resurrection. This is the basis of our salvation: his death is our death that he bears in our place and his new life is our new life. But this union with Christ in his death and resurrection is also the basis for the way we live our lives as Christians.

1. Suffering followed by glory

‘Then [Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.’ (Acts 14:21-22)

‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ (Romans 8:17-18)

In this present life we follow the way of the cross. Jesus said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23) Everywhere you look in the New Testament the cross of Jesus (more than the life of Jesus) defines what it means to live as Christ. It can be summarised with five Ss:

  • sacrifice
  • submission
  • self-denial
  • service
  • suffering
Reflection

The way of cross impacts both our big life choices and our small daily actions: from martyrdom to washing up. Identify what the way of the cross will mean for you in the next five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Five months? Five years?

We follow the way of the cross because it leads to resurrection glory. We live sacrificially because we are living for a glorious inheritance kept in heaven for us. (See Matthew 6:19-21 and Hebrews 11:24-26 and 12:1-3.)

In the meantime we cannot expect glory without the cross (see Mark 10:35-45).

Peter concludes his first letter by saying that he has written ‘encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God’ (5:12). What is this true grace of God? ‘And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 5:10-11) The true grace of God, the grace that makes him ‘the God of all grace’, consists of this: he has called to eternal glory after we have suffered a little while. Suffering followed by glory. The pattern of suffering and glory in the experience of Christ (1:11) is the experience of all believers (1:6-7; 4:13; 5:1-6, 10).

Peter needs to write to confirm that this is the true grace of God, because there are false versions of grace. There are versions of grace that promise glory without suffering.
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Satan does not mind family values and social justice as long as …

Here’s a helpful quote from Russell Moore (via Justin Taylor) reflecting on Satan’s third temptation of Jesus:

Satan ultimately has a power that is not found most importantly in moral decay or in cultural chaos. His power is in the authority to accuse. The power of accusation. The power of holding humanity captive through the fear of death and the certainty of judgment …

Satan is not fearful of external conformity to rule. Not even to the external conformity of the rule of Christ – provided there is no cross. Satan does not mind family values – as long as what you ultimately value is the family. Satan does not mind social justice – as long as you see justice as most importantly social. Satan does not tremble at a Christian worldview. He will let you have a Christian worldview as long as your ultimate goal is viewing the world …

He will let you get what it is that you want, no matter what it is – sanctity of marriage, environmental protection, orphan care, all of these good and wonderful things – he will allow you to gain those things provided you do not preach and proclaim and live through the power of a cross that cancels his power of condemnation.

Jesus, keep me near the cross

This looks like a great book to read in the run up to Easter: Nancy Guthrie (ed.), Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter (Crossway). It’s an anthology of reflections on the cross and resurrection from Reformed writers, ancient and modern. It’s due out  in the United States and in the UK at the end of the month – just in time to get a copy for Lent. Here’s the line up …

1. Martin Luther, “True Contemplation of the Cross”
2. John Piper, “He Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem”
3. Alistair Begg, “An Innocent Man Crushed by God”
4. C. J. Mahaney, “The Cup”
5. R. Kent Hughes, “Gethsemane”
6. J. Ligon Duncan III, “Betrayed, Denied, Deserted”
7. Charles Spurgeon, “Spit in His Face”
8. Adrian Rogers, “The Silence of the Lamb”
9. J. C. Ryle, “The Sufferings of Christ”
10. John MacArthur, “Father, Forgive Them”
11. John Owen, “With Loud Cries and Tears”
12. Martin Lloyd-Jones, “That He Might Destroy the Works of the Devil”
13. Skip Ryan, “I Am Thirsty”
14. Phillip Ryken, “God-Forsaken”
15. R. C. Sproul, “Cursed”
16. James Montgomery Boice, “Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit”
17. John Calvin, “Blood and Water”
18. J. I Packer, “He Descended into Hell and Ascended into Heaven”
19. Jonathan Edwards, “A Sweet-Smelling Savor to God”
20. Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “The Most Important Word in the Universe”
21. Francis Shaeffer, “Resurrection Preview”
22. Saint Augustine, “Peace Be Unto You”
23. Tim Keller, “Knowing the Power of His Resurrection”
24. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Knowing the Fellowship of His Sufferings”
25. Stephen Olford, “Crucified with Christ”

HT: Justin Taylor

Appraising The Desire of the Nations – Part One

The Desire of the Nations - Amazon UK

Here’s the first of two posts providing some kind of appraisal of Oliver Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (CUP, 1996). Click here for other entries in this series summarising and assessing The Desire of the Nations

It is hard to evaluate a work of such scale. It certainly invidious to be ‘for’ or ‘against’ The Desire of the Nations. I will restrict to a number of observations.

1. I am not sure O’Donovan has laid sufficient emphasis on the servant nature of God’s rule. God’s rule in Eden was life-giving, loving, peaceable and just. It was the Serpent lie to portray God as tyrant, holding humanity back.  Humanity’s problem thereafter has been twofold: (1) we believe God to be a tyrant and therefore we believe we will be more free without God than under his rule; (2) we typically rule in image of Satan’s lie (i.e. tyrannically) rather than in the image of God’s rule as we were intended to. Richard Mouw writes:

The story of the reclamation of fallen humanity directly confronts the revisionist doctrine of God [put forward by the Serpent] that precipitated the fall into sin. Over and over, human beings must hear the refrain, ‘You have misunderstood; that is not what it means to be a “lord”.’ Finally God himself must become a member of sinful humanity … The lie of the Tempter is decisively exposed when the incarnate Son says, ‘Look! This is what it means to be a “lord”:’ and ‘he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant … and become obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:7‑8). (Richard Mouw, Politics and the Biblical Drama, Baker, 1976, 41.)

2. O’Donovan seems to suggest a limited role for government. This is not the small state so beloved on American Republicanism. In The Ways of Judgment (Eerdmans), for example, he argues for the state provision of child benefit. Nevertheless O’Donovan argues that after Christ the role of government is simply that of judgment (though he also seems equivocal on this as in other places he allows for a continued, albeit lesser role of power and tradition.)

The Desire of the Nations - Amazon US

The Desire of the Nations - Amazon US

I think the move to judgment alone needs more justification than is provided. It almost seems to occur by slight of hand. Somewhere in the dense prose the move is made and it is not until some time later that you realise that the move was significant. The role of the state in Romans 13 to punish wrong doing seems the main plank in this argument (though O’Donovan elsewhere critiques those who proof text a political theology from Romans 13). Yet even in Romans 13:4 the ruler is not only ‘an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer’, he is also ‘God’s servant to do you good’.

When God stepped into the story: reflections on Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’

I’ve just finished reading Atonement by Ian McEwan. (I’ve not seen the film.) The book is beautifully written with the amazing sustained descriptive passages that are characteristic of McEwan. It’s the story of a teenage , Briony Tallis, whose false accusations lead to a young man, Robbie, being wrongly imprisoned for se xual assault. Robbie and Briony’s older sister, Cecilia, are in love so Briony’s act destroys two lives. By the time Robbie is released, the second world war has begun and he has been conscripted. He and Cecilia, who has forsaken her family to become a nurse, meet only briefly before he is send away to France. As Briony realises what she has done, she endeavours to atone, leaving the privileges of her up-bringing and the pursuit of literature at university to devote herself to nursing during the war.

But she cannot self-atone.

On this first really fine day of May she sweated under her starchy uniform. All she wanted to do was work, then bathe and sleep until it was time for work again. But it was useless, she knew. Whatever skivvying or humble nursing she did, and however well or hard she did it, whatever illumination in tutorial she had relinquished, or lifetime moment on a college lawn, she would never undo the damage. She was unforgivable. (Ian McEwan, Atonement, Jonathan Cape, 2001, 285.)

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God and suffering #4

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the final part of the answer to the third question.

God has done something about suffering
Why doesn’t God do something about suffering? He has done something. He suffers with us. And he suffers for us.

At the cross, God turned evil against evil and brought about the practical solution to the problem. He has made atonement for sins, he has conquered de ath, he has triumphed over the devil. He has laid the foundation for hope. What further demonstration do we need?[1]

God will do something about suffering
The cross is not the end of the story: Jesus rose again. His resurrection is the promise of an end to , an end to suffering, a new beginning, a new creation, without pain, without tears.

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New Word Alive: John Piper on suffering and the praise of God’s grace

John Piper began his second address at New Word Alive (here are my notes on the first) by expanding his statement that suffering is judicial. Romans 8:20 says that creation subjected to futility by him (that is, God) in hope. Genesis 3:16-18 also speak of pain as God’s response to sin. The agony of pain is God’s witness to the outrage of sin.

This does not mean that when Christians suffer they are being punished. It dishonours Christ and his cross when a Christian feels judged by God since Christ has born our punishment in full (8:1, 3). For someone who never trusts Christ suffering is judgment. For a Christian suffering is purifying. For someone who is on their way to becoming a Christian suffering is awakening. So when asked by someone to interpret their suffering, you should respond, ‘It depends.’ It continue to reject Christ you’re your suffering is judgment, but your suffering could be God trying to get your attention in love.

God was not merely responding to sin when he subjected the world to futility. It was part of his eternal plan to glorify his grace.

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New Word Alive: Don Carson on the Cross and Propitiation

Here are my notes on Don Carson’s morning Bible reading on 1 John 1:1-2:2. Without directly addressing recent debates, it was an excellent defence of the content and significance of substitutionary atonement. (Remember: these are my notes of Don’s talk and I may not always rightly convey what he intended.)

It’s all too easy to present the gospel message and omit the relationship between our sin and God. We might talk of God creating a good world that we have messed up, but which God sorts it out. But this misses what is chiefly out of line in history and therefore misses out what the cross chiefly achieves. Understanding sin and understanding the cross go hand in hand. Miss out the wrath of God against sin and the story distorts. You do not simply minimise something; you change the whole picture.

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