Friday, December 25, 2009

The Fullness of the Time

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

This passage has become the most meaningful to me in reference to the incarnation of Christ, the event we celebrate today. Mainly because it expresses so many great truths about not just the event of Christ's advent, but the purpose and sovereign will of God in action, and the impact of that event.

We see the perfection of the timing of God's foreordained plan of sending God the Son to earth. He did so "when the fullness of the time came", at the point in human and redemptive history that God had appointed from before the foundation of the world. I love that term "fullness", speaking of all that God had purposed to occur leading up to the event being brought to realization. The sovereign purpose and plan of God the Father being worked out over thousands of years of history, all in preparation for the entry of God the Son into human form, the Word made flesh. Not an afterthought, not a Plan B, but the decisive action of God at just the time that He had determined, and in just the circumstances that He had planned.

The circumstances being noted next - "born of a woman, born under the Law." God the Son, the Christ, was to be conceived by supernatural means, but born by natural means, although to a virgin. No descending from heaven in a flash of glory, nothing showy or noteworthy - except to those few humble ones He chose to announce the event to. A child born of a woman in the most unlikely of places. Again, God's foreordained plan in action. And don't miss the significance of the Son being born to Jewish parents, "under the Law." The Christ was born into the nation of Israel who were commanded to keep God's Law - and could not. And the Christ was born under the Law so as to be the only human ever to meet the just requirements of the Law perfectly - so that He would be the righteous One, without sin. As the perfectly prepared sacrifice for the sin of the elect, and as the righteousness-earner for them as well.

And this then brings us to the purpose of all this. The "so that" part of the passage. The purpose of Christ's advent? Redemption, of those under the Law. Referring not just to the Jews, who had received the law of God, but to all people everywhere, who are accountable to God's perfect standard expressed in the Law. Every one of us is accountable to the Law of God, and fall short of His glorious standard, and therefore are condemned by the Law, unable to bear its burden. Christ's perfect fulfillment of the Law earned righteousness for the elect, and His perfect sacrifice earned forgiveness of sin for the elect. Here's the purpose of the grand plan of redemption that was determined in eternity past, was initiated at the birth of Christ, accomplished at the Cross of Christ, and will be consummated at the second advent of Christ.

And note also the result expressed here. The outcome of redemption is that "we might receive the adoption as sons." The position of the one who trusts in the redeeming person and work of Jesus Christ is not just declared forgiven and righteous in God's sight, but also in deep and eternal relationship with Him as Father. Adopted into the family of God. Brothers and sisters with Christ Himself. And as Paul goes on to say, joint heirs with Him, reigning with Jesus as our brother-King for eternity, to the glory of God the Father. An incredible inheritance, all of grace, and all for His glory.

This Christmas day, don't miss the grand unfolding of God's eternal plan. Christ's birth is just one part of that plan, a key one but also one that must be kept in context if we are to celebrate it and Him rightly. Praise God for His superintending "the fullness of the time" in Christmas and in all things.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Themes from Jude

Finished teaching the last lesson in my study of the epistle of Jude last Sunday. An incredibly powerful, challenging and necessary little letter that has caused me to stop and think more deeply about the church, the state of the church, the priority of truth in the church and the seriousness of error. Through the study, several key themes have emerged, and I summarize them here.

  1. Truth Matters. This is a phrase that's been used many times by many people, and it still rings true. Truth does matter, since ideas have consequences and actions are always based on beliefs. But in the epistle of Jude I see another aspect of this statement: truth matters to God. The bulk of Jude's letter expresses the heinous nature of apostasy in the eyes of God. The repeated statements regarding the fore-ordained condemnation by God on apostate teachers, and the swiftly coming judgment that He will execute on them, both drive Jude's point home. We must value God's revealed truth not just because of the consequences of following that which is not true, which are dire. But we as Christians must value God's revealed truth, the gospel of Christ, because God Himself is concerned with truth, and in fact is the Truth.
  2. Fight for the Faith. This is the central command and major point of Jude's letter, as expressed in v. 3 where he says he writes "appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." And the rest of the letter lays out the reason for contending, and those who we are to contend against. As the next verse says, "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.". The fight for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the purity of the foundational teachings passed to us from the apostles is largely waged within the visible church. The greatest threat to God's revealed truth comes not from atheistic, agnostic, mystical or pagan attacks from without, but from apostates within. And contending for the faith means recognizing these apostates, pointing them out for who and what they are, and doing so publicly and boldly. It means sometimes causing conflict and divisions within the visible church, to preserve that which defines and sustains the invisible church. It means knowing the truths of the faith once for all handed down to the saints well enough to recognize falsehoods and to speak against them with the truth. Sadly, this is an unpopular position in the postmodern church. We are ill equipped to contend for the faith, and in fact most do not want to or see the need to. I would refer those people to point number 1 above.
  3. Apostate Damage Control is Critical. The last section of Jude's epistle makes it clear that fighting for the faith means more than just pointing out the apostates among us and their teachings. It means more than just avoiding those apostates teachings ourselves to as to build ourselves up on our most holy faith as the foundation for our lives. It also means engaging in search and rescue operations for those who have been taken in and led astray by apostates and their teachings. "And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh." Jude commands us here to go after those who are wavering in their faith because of the influence of false teachings and mercifully restore them to the path of Christian truth. He tells us to drag others back to the truth by force, who have been led to embrace the false teachings. And even to the point of engaging in mercy missions to rescue those who are completely entangled with and stained by embracing the teachings of apostates, and doing so fearfully and carefully to keep ourselves unstained by these things. It's not enough to stand for the truth of the gospel by pointing out and calling out the false. Contending for the faith also means seeking rescue and restoration of those who have been damaged by the false. This is hands-on, person to person business, the messy stuff. But if we truly love Christ and His truth and His church, and are zealous for His glory, we will not shy away from this duty.
Powerful stuff, this. Challenging commands, these. And more necessary in the 21st century than even when first delivered in the 1st. Read. Think. Pray. Ponder. And contend.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Climate Change? My View...

    So here's a few cartoons I came by that sum up much of my view on so-called climate change...

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    Misunderstanding Christmas

    Driving into town one evening last week, I passed the local Chamber of Commerce office. They had their Christmas decorations set up out front, with huge lighted letters spelling out "Peace On Earth, Goodwill To Men." A very Christmasy look and message, right? But I was immediately struck by the misunderstanding that the unbelieving world around us has about Christmas and its significance. And how this popular Christmas slogan is a reflection of that misunderstanding.

    What is it this statement seems to mean to the good folks in the C of C, or to most others who would express this as a Christmas wish? Well, likely that the real message of the Christmas season is the promotion of peace among people and nations on earth, and expressing good will and good feelings toward our fellow man, regardless of our differences. These words seem very attractive to the tolerance and can't-we-all-just-get-along crowd. Peaceful coexistence, setting aside those things that would divide us, blah blah blah. In fact, I just heard that old Bing Crosby/David Bowie rendition of The Little Drummer Boy, where Bowie talks about peace on earth and how we have to work to teach our children to live in peace and all that. Sounds so great. But does this have anything to do with the words as stated in Scripture? Do these sentiments have any connection with the real meaning of Christmas? Not so much.

    Of course, the first problem is that these words are taken from a not-so-good translation of Luke 2:14 in the KJV. The NASB is much better, which states: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." These are the words of the angels to the shepherds as they announced the birth of the Savior. They expressed first and foremost that God is the One to be glorified in this event, above all. And secondly, the announcement of peace on earth. But not universal peace among all men. Not the cessation of all conflicts. Jesus later even said this wasn't His purpose for coming at all. But rather, peace towards and between men and women with whom God is pleased. The peace on earth announced here is reserved for those who are pleasing to God, who trust Him and the salvation that He is providing through the incarnation of His Son that night in Bethlehem. The goodwill to men communicated by the angels is God's goodwill toward His people through Jesus Christ, and among those people whom He has brought to Himself through Christ. An announcement of the cessation of hostilities between God and those who will be His people. But not a general declaration of peace and goodwill for all men. Such an understanding is a misunderstanding of the true message and meaning of Christmas.

    So, Christian, as those who are recipients of this peace with God and His goodwill toward us in Christ, what shall we do with the unbelieving world who misunderstands this announcement? Give them the truth, the reality of the Gospel of Christ, the only hope for peace and goodwill of any kind for mankind. And the only hope for eternal life for anyone. Give them the real reason for the season. For His glory.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Be Good? What's That Mean?

    It's Christmas season, and those goodwill-toward-men folks over at the American Humanist Association have decided to launch an advertising campaign focusing on their belief that the reason for the season is really a farce. With endearing slogans on billboards and buses like "Yes Virginia, there is no God," they are seeking equal time and attention in this season of nominal Christian recognition by the masses. No big surprise there.

    But one of their main ads really caught my attention, and seems to point out a major flaw in the humanist philosophy. The headline on the ad states: "No God? No Problem! Be good for goodness sake." Well actually, I think there is a problem here, by removing God from the equation of goodness. First of all, the AHA's assumption here seems to be that people have some motivation to "be good", to live and behave in some morally correct manner. And what then is their stated reason for people to "be good"? For the sake of being good, apparently. The humanist view seems to be that people want to behave in a morally good manner, for the sake of being good, for the apparent benefits that being good provides.

    But on what basis do humanists determine what is morally good? No God? Big problem defining goodness. The etymology of the very English word "good" is based on its roots in Anglo-Saxon as a euphemism for God. Indeed, the entire idea of good and goodness has always been defined, at least in western culture, by the nature and character of God. So if one removes God from the equation, what basis will you use to define what is good? Seems to me that the AHA is dealing with terms that they have no basis for defining.

    Of course, look at the definition on the poster they give for humanism: "the idea that people can be good without a belief in God." Interesting. But it seems we're back to the same definitional issue: what do you mean by "good" if it isn't referenced to some transcendent and ultimate moral authority and standard?

    This is where humanism, atheism, agnosticism, and any other ism that leaves the one true God out of the picture has no ability to speak in moral terms, in language of good and evil. For when you remove the great Lawgiver from moral discourse, you are left with only relative assumptions and personally or socially contructed norms of right and wrong, which no one will ever be able to come to agreement on. Yes Virginia, there is a God, and He alone is good and sets the standard for goodness.