Tuesday, 16 December 2008

What's going on here?

An angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

See, the virgin will become pregnant

and give birth to a son,

and they will name Him Immanuel,

which is translated "God is with us."

When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord's angel had commanded him. He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus. (Matthew 1:20-25, my bold)
Joseph obeys the angel and names Jesus "Jesus", but Isaiah said "they will name him Immanuel" - there's different names there! What's going on?

Immanuel comes up once in Isaiah 7 (quoted in Matthew 1), and once more in Isaiah 8 (describing the size of the devistation left behind by the Assyrian army - it'll even reach the end of the Immanuel's kingdom).

The whole idea of "Immanuel" is rather scary - judgement is sure to happen.
  • The people of Israel are shocked that Moses has spoken with God and not died.
    Look, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice from the fire. Today we have seen that God speaks with a person, yet he still lives. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. For who out of all mankind has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the fire, as we have, and lived? (Deuteronomy 5:24-26)
    In verse 28 God affirms that they are speaking truth.
  • Unclean things defile the tabernacle and that means death - nothing unclean or sinful can go near it.
    You shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. (Leviticus 15:31)
    The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. (John 1:14)
Something needs to happen if we have Immanuel: "God with us", and we survive that encounter. We need Jesus: "God saves" to enable God to be with us, without killing us. It is only by him saving us from our sins that we can have Immanuel.

Yes Jesus is called Immanuel - by Christians over the centuries - but not by Joseph, who gives Jesus the name that is the key to unlocking the other stuff. Not Terrance the teacher, Henry the healer, Percy the prophet, nor Mike the miracle worker, but Jesus the saviour. He is those other things, but that's not his badge, not how God, through the angel and Joseph, wanted him to be labelled!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

What is Christmas all about?

It's about the incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, God becoming man.

But why do that?

There is only one thing God couldn't do without becoming incarnate in a body. Die.
Athanasius said:
The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father's Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death.
On the Incarnation chapter 2 paragraph 9.

Why die?
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" — and I am the worst of them.
(1 Timothy 1:15)

To save sinner, Jesus had to die to stop death winning, fulfilling the law and carrying it's curse in our place, offering himself as a sin offering to propitiate (turn aside God's anger) for our sins. It had to be a human body, as it was human flesh that needed saving:
Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father.
On the Incarnation chapter 2 paragraph 8.

[God] condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin's domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law's requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)

There are other reasons why the incarnation is great:
  1. God is able to sympathise with our weakness as he's been tempted (see Hebrews 4:15)
  2. We can know what love is:
    God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9+10)
  3. That the Devil might be destroyed.
    Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, He also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil
    (Hebrews 2:14)
  4. We need not fear death
    Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, He also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.
    (Hebrews 2:14+15)
  5. To give us an example of true humility
    Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
    (Philippians 2:5-8)
  6. God is fully made known through the person of Jesus:
    • We have an image of the invisible Father, that we can see, in the Son (see Colossians 1:15)
      No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father's side — He has revealed Him.
      (John 1:18)
      if we know the Son, we know the Father
      (John 14:7)
    • We see God's Glory
      we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
      (John 1:14)
      For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness" — He has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God's glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
      (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Introverted Intuitive Feeling Perception

That's what this site (HT:glenscriv) decides is the personality type of my blog, and therefore me. I think it's a reasonable match.

Having this personality means I'm more likely to take personality tests.

Wikipedia on INFP personalities.

I would give my feelings on this, but I don't want to. My personality explains why.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


Do we understand faith? Do we really get what faith really is? I don't think many Christians, let alone people in general, do actually get it. They make faith a feeling, something we do, rather than an object, a thing we have been given. They make their faith the stand point of their salvation, rather than Jesus - that's faith in faith, which is rather recursive and inward looking (and our faith is rather untrustworthy). Faith looks outwards to it's object.

What is faith?

"Complete trust or confidence." (Oxford English Dictionary definition 1)
"Faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God... Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith." (Martin Luther, from his introduction to the Book of Romans)
"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

It's not a vague feeling that something is true! I think when confronted with these definitions, the cry of the Father of the demon-possessed boy "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:22) comes into play for so many of us.

What does it do?

It's a pipe where grace can flow!

"You were also raised with [Jesus] through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2:12)
"for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." (Galatians 3:26)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith." (Ephesians 2:8)
"in [Christ] we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him." (Ephesians 3:12)
"that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Ephesians 3:17)
"we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14)
"the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." (Romans 3:22)
"the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." (Romans 3:24-25)

Through the pipe of faith, we receive all the blessings of God: redemption, resurrection, the Spirit, adoption as sons of God, salvation, Christ dwelling in our hearts, boldness and confident access to the Father, God's righteousness and because "The one who by faith is righteous will live" (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, alternative translation) then also life (though I've already kind of mentioned that).

How do we get faith?

It's a gift:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

It's offered to disciples:
"And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God."" (Mark 11:22)

It's delivered, once for all, to believers:
"the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 2)

It doesn't come from ourselves:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

It is founded (and perfected) by Jesus:
"Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2)

If I have a piece of post delivered it doesn't come from me and it is mine unless I go to the effort of getting rid of it (which I have the choice of doing) - there's no work in receiving it. It's like something being placed in my pocket - I have the choice to keep it there, however while it is a work to remove it, it involves no effort to keep it there, belonging to me.

Faith isn't a work, isn't something we produce, it's something we receive without effort. We cannot boast of our faith, only boast in the object of that faith, who gave us that faith in the first place.

Our standing point, our place where we find assurance cannot be in how much we believe and trust in God, that's not even the faith we've been given. The way we get conviction of things unseen is by following that pipe of faith to where it's all coming from. We find assurance in the trustworthiness of God, rather than anything to do with us. As John Newton wrote "The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures".

Friday, 31 October 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

On this day, 491 years ago, a monk called Martin Luther pinned up, on the church notice board (which happened to be the door) of the Church in Wittenburg, 95 Theses.

These Theses were all about the problem of indulgences, the selling of bits of paper, signed by the Pope, granting time off purgatory for you or a dead relative. As Tetzel (the indulgence commissioner for Germany) said "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs." - Tetzel even had a price list for different sins, and allowed indugences to be brought in advance of a sin. The Pope used this money to build St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Indulgences 'removed' the need for repentance.

Luther, in his Theses challenges the right of the Pope to forgive sin, the whole Catholic Doctrine of Penance - that you could do certain things (give money, look at some relic, attend a Mass, go to confession and do some rosary prayers) and have your sins forgiven. Luther realised that those things did nothing, and gave false hope. He was still very Catholic at that point, but he was disgusted at the practises of the Roman Catholic church at that time - the defrauding of the pious in return for false assurance.

Here's Baldrick giving the Archbishop of Canterbury (Edmund the Black Adder) the run down of what the market is (sadly cut a bit short)...

Yes there were 2 Popes for quite a while, and both declared the other to be the Antichrist!
Luther joined in the fun - he circulated a pamphlet inviting people to come and look at some 'relics' he had - Theology Network has a list.

The main reason the 95 Theses were important is that, in order to defend his case, Luther had to read the Bible - the Pope took 3 years to respond, and by that time Luther's Theology had massively improved. He was a completely changed person by 1520, understanding Justification and not being rather scared (and bugging of his priest by confessing every tiny sin) - actually being a Christian. In 1520, Luther wrote "On the Freedom of a Christian" which opens:
A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.
The 95 Theses aren't great in and of themselves, but what they started in Luther (searching the Scriptures) changed him, and then what Luther had learnt changed Europe, added to greatly by other's work (it certainly wasn't just him). Political things (like the Pope and Henry VIII not getting along due to Henry's wanting to annul his marriage as illegal), technological advances (the printing press), scholarly works (Erasmus' Greek New Testiment) and many other things all worked together to overthrow the captivity of people by the Church - stuck in Latin that many priests could even understand, or pronounce properly, stuck in false hope and also false fear. Tons of things worked together to return Biblical Christianity to the world (after a short absence - only in 1514 had there been a report to the Pope saying that there were no more Bible-believers, that they had finally been defeated), and it returned in a big way.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Theology Network has today put up this "Table Talk" with John Piper about Justification. Listen to it!

Here's a quote from Luther on this glorious truth reflecting on his conversion (and Romans 1:17):
"In it the righteousness of God is revealed," that had stood in my way. For I hated that word "righteousness of God," which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'" There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.

The bit (in the Table Talk) about if teaching about the atonement was just about forgiveness of sins (in the last 5 minutes), then it's like we're forgiven as a past event and now got to be good to make it, got to justify ourselves was especially helpful. It helped me understand where the Mormon missionaries were coming from yesterday when I questioned a passage of the Book of Mormon that they gave me, where it talks about Christ's death removing the curse of the fall and making us free to choose good or bad, and us being on probation because of it. Yes - probation, basically they believe that God is going to see if we are good enough to make it! But you expect Mormons' to have a false gospel - how many 'protestants' have that heretical view? Rather a lot: that we have to be a 'Christ-follower' obeying Christ to be saved is very common, thanks to the neo-pietists and semi-pelagians that infest the English and American churches today.

Yes faith without works is dead - but the works are fruit - because we are saved we will do them. We don't have to prove our faith to God - he gave us it, he united us with Christ, clothed us in Christ's righteousness, he hid our shameful lives in Christ. We have to prove it to ourselves, of course, to give assurance - that we have the down payment of the Spirit, that we have been worked in by the one who will finish what he started, due to his faithfulness. Our good works assure ourselves that God is working in us, rather than assuring God that we are worthy of him. It's getting things the wrong way round - the wrong view of 'because we want to be saved, we will obey our Lord', rather than 'because we are saved, we will want to obey our Lord'.

Without Justification, we can have no assurance - thank God for this gift of his grace, that we get what we don't deserve: the righteousness of God. God looks at Christians and sees obedience "to the point of death, even death on a cross." - he sees Jesus' obedience, not our disobedience.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Jesus fulfils the law...by being more infectious than the disease!

Leviticus and Numbers are full of strange laws concerning 'clean' and 'unclean'. These describe how eating certain animals, touching dead things or mould, having skin diseases or bodily discharges and so on makes someone unclean for a time and makes them unable to be part of the camp for a certain time. If you touched, or where touched by, someone unclean then you were also made unclean (Numbers 19:22)

In the desert, when hundreds of thousands of people are all in close proximity, it's good for avoiding disease. Once in the promised land, it was a reminder of the holiness of God, but far more a ceremonial thing.

Jesus fulfils these regulations in the first 7 chapters of Mark by:
  • Touching someone with a skin disease (1:40-45)
  • Being touched by a bleeding woman (5:25-34)
  • Touching a dead child (5:35-43)
  • Explaining what real uncleanness is (7:14-23)
He touches/is touched by several unclean people, and what happens? Instead of the uncleanness spreading to Jesus (like Numbers 19:22 and common sense would suggest - clean stuff becomes not so clean when it touches dirty stuff, not the other way around - some sort of washing is needed), Jesus' cleanness spreads to that person. The leper in chapter 1 asks to be made clean, and is. The bleeding woman is healed and the little girl gets up, not dead any more.

Real uncleanness is a matter of the heart - nothing going in can defile, only that which comes out. What goes in goes into the stomach (there's your eating animals allowed - explicit in the text (7:19b)) and passes through - out into the toilet. It's what comes out of the heart that makes people unclean - "evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, lewdness, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness" (7:21-22).

Funnily enough, his 'what makes people unclean' come just before he goes and deals with Gentiles - the Syrophoenician woman, the deaf and dumb man (and others) and the 4000. Gentiles were considered unclean as well, and he's removed all the restriction.

Therefore we don't need to worry about falling foul of the clean/unclean rules because Jesus is willing and he can make us clean (Mk1:41). We don't need to worry about food laws, nor cleaning pots (more than is necessary to stop bacteria), or being Gentiles, as those things don't make us unclean. Rather the fulfilment of the laws about clean/unclean is found in Mk 7:20-23. That it's sin that makes us truly unclean - thankfully Jesus deals with that too - both in our justification and sanctification.

What's great is that Christians don't have to go through purification rituals to approach God, or even to be with his people. They've already been purified, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

Monday, 11 August 2008

A prayer for mountain top vistas of God's glory and grace

I've always struggled to focus on God, rather than his gifts, in the times when he's blessed me with carefree, easy going life. This has become more pronounced as I've learnt and grown so much when I'm carrying my cross. I thank God for those tough times, not because suffering is fun, but because of how much I can see him working in me in those times, but it's almost getting to the point that I don't thank him for the good times, that I don't want to be blessed with good times.

So I've written a prayer, and I want (perhaps against my better judgement) to share it to you. Thank the Lord that salvation is reliant not on my poetry skills, rhyming ability or anything like that! Thank the Lord that he is a loving father, who will pin this on his fridge, contemplate it, listen to it and answer it, despite the fact that it's dire!

Shall I lean on you only when I'm in the mood?
Shall I praise your gifts, not you, when feeling good?
Shall I only seek you when things aren't going well?
Shall I only look to you when everything's not swell?

The stars shine all the time, but are only seen at night:
So I feel it is with your glory's radiant light.

The lights of the world distract and blind:
Help me in the daytime, your grace, to find

I thank you that in the valley, I'm watered, I grow,
But on the mountains, you become just someone that I know.
Help me see you, feel you, in the heights;
On those peaks, make me more like Christ.

When I think I can do it, you aren't Lord.
When it seems in my power, you make me bored.
Humble me in those times of no suffering,
Help me see that always you are King.

On those peaks there should be a glorious view;
Yet when I'm up there, I ignore you.
When I'm resting from carrying my cross,
Help me search for gold and not dross.

I'm sorry Lord, that I turn from your living water
And make idols out of your good gifts - I stumble and falter
When things aren't going 'wrong'.
Oh Lord please help me to always sing your song.

I'm learning by paradox that to be low is to be high;
That in my loneliness you walk by my side.
Teach me also that to be high is to be low,
That when things are 'going well', still to you I must go.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Regeneration in Ephesians 1 and 2

Today is my 5th rebirthday. 5 years ago today, God revealed to me the mystery of his will (1:9) as I heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation and believed in Christ (1:13) and underwent a transformation from being separated from Christ (2:12) to being united with him in his resurrection and ascension (2:5-6).

Therefore I had the below transformations, in him (1:6, 7, 11, 13, 2:6, 7, 10, 13), through him (1:5, 2:18) and his blood (1:6, 2:13), by the grace that was lavished on me through faith (1:7-8, 2:4, 8) and above all, because I was chosen and predestined before the beginning of the world according to the purpose of God's will (1:4-5, 11) due to God being abundant in mercy and because of his great love and good pleasure (1:5, 9, 2:4). Why? To the praise of God's glorious grace (1:6); to help fulfil the plan of God to bring everything together in the Messiah (1:10); to the praise of God's glory (1:12, 14) that he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us (2:7). It's all for him and his plans. It's not by anything that I've done (thank God) and I can't boast - it's a gift! All I can do is exclaim how amazing God is because of what he's done.

I was, 5 years ago:
  1. dead in my trespasses (2:1)
  2. a son of disobedience and a child of wrath (2:2-3)
  3. far off (2:13)
  4. called "uncircumcision" (2:11), a stranger and an alien (2:19), alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise (2:12)
  5. without God (2:12)
  6. without hope (2:12)
  7. walking following the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air and carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (2:2-3)
  8. following the spirit still at work in the sons of disobedience (2:2)
  9. separated from Christ (2:12)
Now I am (and have been for 5 years):
  1. alive (2:5) and I have been forgiven my trespasses (2:7)
  2. a son of God, adopted by him (1:5), an heir (1:11)
  3. brought near (2:13)
  4. reconciled to man (2:16), a fellow citizen with the saints and a member of the household of God (2:19)
  5. reconciled to God (2:16), having access to the Spirit and the Father (2:18)
  6. with hope in Christ (1:12)
  7. called to walk in the good works that God has prepared (2:10), holy and blameless before God (1:4)
  8. given God's Spirit (1:13)
  9. united with him in his resurrection and ascension (2:5-6)
  10. blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (1:3, 6)
  11. saved (2:5. 8)
  12. used as part of the temple of God (2:21-22)
(note how 1-9 tally with how I was)

There's plenty of other transformations that happen at rebirth elsewhere in the Bible, but I won't deal with them here as I think the above list is enough to show how amazing God is!

'Tis mystery all immense and free, for oh, my God, it found out me!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Where the lines are on Christian Unity

There are two main problems, with regards to Christian Unity - one is that those who follow the apple, thinking it's a tomato get considered followers of the One True Tomato, either as people only have a vague idea of what a tomato is, or because they don't question enough and go "sounds like a tomato to me". The other problem are those who refuse to unite around the fact that they follow the same thing - the One True Tomato, and make mountains over minor issues (obviously they haven't heard the famous song!).

There also is a third problem, one that's really obviously stupid, but still gets done lots - that's when people think that the banana and the tomato are the same thing, simply as some people call the banana a tomato. This means that obviously there should be fellowship between both groups, as they say and think that follow the tomato.

A Catholic friend of mine wanted unity over the fact that we are both Christians. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but explained that Catholic official doctrine isn't Christian, and that while there are some Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, the RCC itself isn't Christian. He then explained that "Through Jesus, and the intervention of His mother, and my own patron saint's intervention on my behalf I might stand a chance of redemtion." and that therefore, he's a Christian. I then explained that if Jesus needs the help of Mary and of a saint to intercede to the Father (who loves the Son), then he's rather rubbish - basically God's not good enough to do it on His own in my friends view. It's a different god, a different Christ - it's an apple, not a tomato. (I also put his 'might stand a chance' against the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith, and found it lacking, and suggested that he might like to read Romans 8, Ephesians 1 and other texts that show that assurance is there for Christians and his complete lack of any form of assurance shows that he's not a Christian at all).

Likewise, it's like that with the whole gay Bishops Anglican split. Parts of the Anglican communion in the USA, Canada and the UK have changed track and started chasing an apple, rather than that tomato. The apple of a god whose changed his mind, a god who says "homosexuality isn't a sin - I know I made it rather clear in my book 2000 years ago that it was, but it's not now". Many, many people are deceived that this apple is a tomato, even if they disagree with what's been said, they're treating it as a pronunciation difference, rather than a whole separate fruit, but at the base of it, it's a god that flip flops, one that you can't trust his promises, because he might change his mind - that's not the God who revealed himself in the Bible, who calls us to trust him and remember his faithfulness to his promises as the basis of the whole of our response (there's more, but it all stems from that trust). It's a different fruit - there can't be unity there.

To sum up - if it's the same God, go for unity and fellowship despite disagreements on what are minor issues. If it's not the same God, don't. People who aren't Christian have exchanged the truth of God for a lie - they worship created things, rather than God himself - even if they look like God from a distance and on the surface. While we can (and should) dialogue with those who worship a different god, we shouldn't have any false pretences that they are worshipping the same God, or that they are Christian - for they have a different Christ, one who can't save.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Sinning while singing... - A critique of modern hymnody part 1

Isaac, in a Facebook note has shared a poem entitled "an Essay on Modern Hymnody" by someone critique modern sung worship. I hope to give that poem some biblical backing, looking at the different complaints and providing a Biblical basis to them.

This first section of the critique should be fairly obvious what's wrong with the songs, yet so many people pick these songs for worship services.
I. On hymns in the indicative

It's difficult to know where to begin
Our catalogue of folly, crime and sin.
I think it's best if we start with the worst,
So let us start with sin, with the accursed,
Those wicked hymns in the indicative
That make us sing of how we ought to live
As though we do—that is, they make us lie
When they should teach us truths for which to die!
Or make us sing of feelings we don't feel
Thus make the ones we do feel seem unreal;
—They make the false seem true and real seem fake,
And just as bad as these are those that make
Our mouths make promises we cannot keep.
—Such “hymns” make devils smile—and angels weep.
These pretty, pious perjuries we chant
Do nought but school us in religious cant.
What should we do when asked to sing such dross?
Stand silently? Or sing with fingers crossed?
Stand silently, I say, with folded arms
And to yourself recite your fav'rite psalm.
(for those, like me, who aren't grammar experts, the indicative is the grammatical mood used for objective truths).

So we have several things here
  1. singing about how we ought to, but don't, live as if we do live like that
  2. singing about feelings we don't have
  3. singing about promises that we can't keep
All of which is lying. I shouldn't need to tell you that lying is wrong, is sinful. We were called to worship in spirit and truth (John 4), not spirit and lies. However I feel that there is more to these songs that is bad, than just that we're lying while singing them (as if that wasn't bad enough!). I feel that these songs lead to wrong theology and are idolatrous in nature.

Singing about how great we're living (even if it's true) is not something that we should do, nor is going on about how much we love Jesus, or making grand promises. It's showing off our righteousness, going 'look at me, everyone, aren't I great'. If it's true, it's fine for the private domain to go on about how we love God, and how we're going to do something for him, however it could lead to accusations of showing off if done publicly.

A quick look at some people who try to use their righteous acts to petition Jesus:
Jesus says:
"On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’"(Matt 7:22-23, ESV)
These people's salvation seems to rest on what they have done for Jesus, not what he has done for them. This is perhaps the greatest problem of 'songs in the indicative' - they give people false theology - the false theology mentioned in these verses. And heresy is catchy in song: Arius, whose heresy caused the council of Nicea to have to be held to stop it, spread his false teaching about the Trinity by making up little songs and ditties; the indulgences business, that caused Luther to write his 95 Theses to rebel against the whole church going against the gospel, had the refrain "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs". Catchy no? Deadly too!

We're also talking to God, effectively praying, when we sing these songs - what does Jesus say:
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. (Matt 6:7, ESV)
Don't heap up empty phrases - like "I'll do this if you do that", or even just "I'm going to do this" if you won't actually do it.

Don't think that you'll be heard for your many words - don't try and get God's attention - you're his child, he listens to you - you don't need to heap up all sorts of phrases about how we love him and so on to get his attention. If I had a child and he/she asked me for a sweet by saying something like "Daddy, you know I love you - can I have a sweet?" then that's pretty much emotional blackmail into getting a sweet off me and (I hope) the child will be told 'no' (they may then get given it, not because he/she loves me, but because I love him/her - and that would be made explicit). I'm not saying that we shouldn't tell God we love him, but you really haven't got the gospel at all if you think that it matters that we love God when we petition him, or that it matters when we tell others about why he's great.
"Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1John 4:10, HCSB)
We don't need to make promises - it's not a we do and God responds, it's God does and we respond. There are so many songs out there that ignore the God does bit of this, and focus solely on our response. They may even give a nod to the fact that it's a response - that God deserves it, that he is worthy, however they don't have the why of his worthiness.

We are, in these songs, focussing on ourself, not God - we will do this for God, that for God, etc. Isn't that basically idolatry?

In summation
  • These songs cause us to sin through lying about what we have done, feel and will do.
  • They give us a false and heretical view of salvation - based on our actions, not God's.
  • They cause people to feel that those singing them are showing off because it's all 'look at how great I am', which is ignoring Jesus' teaching. It gives the impression of self-righteousness.
  • They are basically self-centred songs, praising yourself, or asking others to praise you for what you've done.
These songs are among the best tools of the Devil, turning us into emotional legalists (must feel the right thing) who worship ourselves, our works, feelings and promises, as an idol; think that God's blessing is dependant on our opinion of him, not his of us; and lie - all while we think we're doing good things, worshipping God.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

New Word Alive

I was part of a group from SUCU who went to NWA this past week. I thought I'd post a summary of the week.
  1. Pwllheli meant that we got to drive through some of the most beautiful places in Britain. The snow topped Snowdon was the pick of the crop. It was good that the snow from Sunday had been washed away by Monday's rain. Being on the west side of the mountains meant that it wasn't as wet as the rest of Wales as well, which was nice.
  2. It was great seeing people I hadn't seen for a while again and catching up with them.
  3. I was surprised at how the song choices by the Soul Survivor crew, while mostly Soul Survivor and not my favourites, were rather good. There was also a good passivity by all the sung worship leaders - Townend was better than he was at the London Men's - he didn't keep repeating bits and so on - he just did it. I was really worried that Soul Survivor would really irritate me, with lots of spiritually shallow or our feelings/actions centred songs, done in a style that I really dislike, but they weren't.
  4. Complaint - during the singing, the two side screens (which were superfluous - you could see the big middle screen from anywhere, unless it was blocked by the side screens) showing the camera men showing off and distracting us with video of the band playing (made worse for some people by them finding the female singers stunning and then stumbling by thinking that they are ugly (the females), or how to get her number (the males)). The words would have been good, especially as those screens did block off the middle screen from some areas, though saving on electricity and having just one screen would have worked.
  5. Another complaint - what was with the 'adult'/student division - fine on the evening things and having a 'recommendation' type thing, that some seminars, etc were going to be aimed at younger people and students, though banning people from seminars for space reasons just because they were/weren't students was annoying (eg the marriage/children one was 'adults' only, which is really harsh on students who are married (not that many, so hardly a problem in the space issue) who don't get much chance outside of things like this to get teaching on being married). Even more irritating was the fact that non-students were called 'adults', as if students weren't mature or were still children.
  6. A final complaint - why was Terry Virgo a headline preacher if he only did one of the main talks? Hugh Palmer and Richie Cunningham did one (OK, they only did one session each, not both). People like Vaughan Roberts, Mike Reeves, Mike Ovey, Roger Carswell, etc each did three talks (more than Piper), though these were seminars, rather than Grand Marquee events. I guess it was a political move to show that it wasn't just a conservative event (though Piper is rather charismatic). His talk was excellent, though not really on the passage, but more the theme that he got given. It seems odd that his name was in white letters on hills on the literature, when he did only one talk and we didn't have to fly him over the Atlantic. I just feel it's odd that he had title billing, nothing wrong with him or his talk.
  7. Back to great things - the level of teaching was excellent - Mike Ovey was brilliant on the Doctrine of Humanity, Don Carson was the Don on 1John and John Piper was outstanding.
  8. The organisation of the teaching was awesome - the morning sermons linked into the evening ones and vice versa. The theme for the week started off as what it means to be saved, and ended up being assurance having gone through applying it - ping ponging through the days, getting added to, clarified, sorted out, etc. Don in the morning would be picking up and passing stuff on to the evening speaker.
  9. My Impact group was amazing, though we did have Dave Anthony leading - he helped bring it all together, and also reminding us of the message. His brief look at the thread of head injuries in the OT was great - linking it all back to Gen3:17 - the promise of the head crusher.
Here are some highlights of my time that aren't mentioned above.
  • Welsh Cream Tea (with bara brith and welsh cakes on top of a normal cream tea) right near Snowdon - excellent
  • The community among the SUCU people, especially our caravan and the boys in general. Thursday night's serious, but light hearted chat, was a brilliant example.
  • Being called mysterious by Ritchie Cunningham (mostly as he couldn't guess what my fancy dress costume was meant to be - either he hasn't read Isaiah 6 recently, or like many others wanted a full, every-mention-of-them-in-the-Bible Seraph - seems like 6 wings wasn't enough - there needed to be many eyes, several faces and wheels within wheels beneath me. It can't be that my costume wasn't very good and was even worse when squashed in my bag.)
  • Michael Briggs (aged 5) from ABC, calling me Simon rather than Harry Potter at Burger King, Oswestry. I've only had to tell him that my name was Simon, not Harry Potter, 8 or 9 times before.
  • Piper's clarification and expansion of the last point of his first talk, in his second (taking up most of the second). Both a massive encouragement and a massive challenge.
  • Getting my money's worth on the impact group's crazy golf trip- 102 shots to do nine holes (though not as good as Q's 122, with 51 of those on the last hole). Finished with my best shot - a twelve foot putt into the hole for a 23.
  • Meeting Don Carson, though I didn't like him name-dropping everyone's favourite posh Kenyan, Syano, into our conversation.
  • Don Carson saying that it's not our love for God, but God's love for us that's worth singing about. How true is that! Sadly, we've neglected that in English speaking countries over recent years and are thankfully on the cusp of turning back.
  • The keeping of the central things central - the whole conference was there because we believe that Jesus' death turned aside God's wrath from us, making him propitious to us and that great truth flowed through every day.
All in all, it was an excellent conference, and it was great to see so many people who care about the fact that we deserve a penalty for our sin, but Christ has taken that penalty in our place. It was great to see the diversity of people there, from all different denominations. It was great to see that

PS - here's a post from the 'offical NWA blogger' Adrian Warnock, who has detailed posts on the conference, as well as links to Piper's talks (hopefully the others will end up online for free as well - I know the conference needed the money, but £3.50 for one talk is rather pricy!)

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Headache cure?

The Cause
Romans 7:7-25 is hard. Very hard. The problems centre on who the 'I' is - a non-believer, a normal believer or a 'carnal' believer - one that has a grip on law, but tries to go their own way to sanctify themselves. I struggled with this passage for several days, thought I had worked out the jist of it, but then I'm back to being confused after looking at it in my church's student discipleship group, 3:16. On the way home from 3:16, several of us discussed how confused we were and tried to make sense of it - we were getting there, and then I (re)read a couple of commentaries/study guides and thought I had a grasp. Then I read Stott and the headache came back. Finally, during CU, I reckon I've got something that has cleared up the issue no end for me, solving the problem.

Hopefully this will try and make sense of it, or at least assist in clearing up the confusion - there's a summary at the end if you don't have much time or you don't think you can understand my writing (and I don't blame you if you do). I pray that we can learn the right meaning and also that you can read my awful writing style and understand what I have to say (even if it's rubbish - I would love comments showing me where my errors were)

The Context
Text without context is a con, so where is it? In the wider context chapter 7 is between chapter 6 and 8 - 6 is on dieing to sin and freedom from it's slavery, being born again in Christ and becoming a slave to rightousness; 8 is on the new life in the Spirit as children of God. Zooming closer in, the context of chapter 7, according to David Coffey (in the Crossway Bible Guide on Romans) is one of 3 sections:
  • 1-6 A story of two marriages
  • 7-13 Don't blame the rule book
  • 14-25 The constant conflict
6:1-7:6 and 8:1-14 show us that, as Christians, we are free from sin and that we should live like we are. Compare the following verses:
6:22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
7:6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
8:2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Wesley feels that between 7:6 and chapter 8 is a digression from the topic, and I'm inclined to agree with him. The topic that we slightly digress from is life in the Spirit and freedom from the law.

Who is the I in the first bit?
Here's Wesley, on 7:7-24:
...the apostle, in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character, Rom_3:5, 1Co_10:30, 1Co_4:6. The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the law, then under it and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve God
And here's Matthew Henry on 7:7-13:
There is no way of coming to that knowledge of sin, which is necessary to repentance, and therefore to peace and pardon, but by trying our hearts and lives by the law. In his own case the apostle would not have known the sinfulness of his thoughts, motives, and actions, but by the law. That perfect standard showed how wrong his heart and life were, proving his sins to be more numerous than he had before thought, but it did not contain any provision of mercy or grace for his relief...
St. Paul was once a Pharisee, ignorant of the spirituality of the law, having some correctness of character, without knowing his inward depravity. When the commandment came to his conscience by the convictions of the Holy Spirit, and he saw what it demanded, he found his sinful mind rise against it. He felt at the same time the evil of sin, his own sinful state, that he was unable to fulfil the law, and was like a criminal when condemned.
Henry, M., & Scott, T. (1997). Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary (Ro 7:7). Oak Harbor, WA

So Wesley goes for the first approach - Paul is talking about an different unbeliever who is under the law, whereas Henry goes for a different one - that Paul is talking in 7:7-14 about Paul in the past. But wait, wasn't Paul a Jewish unbeliever before the events in Acts 9? Paul seems to be talking about his past self, but generically at least to begin with - Stott says:
Our first and natural reaction (confining ourselves now to verses 7–13) is that this is a page from Paul’s pre-conversion autobiography. What he writes seems too realistic and vivid to be either a purely rhetorical device or the impersonation of somebody else. At the same time, his references are not so personal as to apply to him exclusively. They are general enough to include others.
Stott, J. R. W. (2001], c1994). The message of Romans : God's good news for the world. The Bible speaks today (198). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

What happens to Paul in the middle bit of chapter 7 then?

The progression to salvation and sanctification...
I'm going to be bold and tie my colours to the mast and say that the I doesn't change - the whole thing is Paul, but what does he go through?
  1. He was apart from the law, and 'alive' (8b-9a)
  2. He was convicted by the law, and 'died' (7-8a, 9b-14)
  3. He battled with sin (15-23)
  4. He realised he couldn't do it alone (24)
  5. He trusted in Jesus (25a)
  6. He battled with sin (25b, 15-23)
  7. He realised he couldn't do it alone (24)
  8. He asked for help and was helped (25a)
  9. He loops round and round stages 6-8 (25b)
1. He was apart from the law, and 'alive' - when he was a Pharisee, he didn't know the law - he knew the 'law' - a mockery of the real thing. Jesus has a go at the Pharisaical law often, eg Mark 7. It's a shame, it's flesh law, not spiritual - the Sermon on the Mount contains excellent examples - "you've heard it said 'thou shalt not ...' but I say to you if you ... then you have committed ... in your hearts" pattern. The Pharisees took "don't murder" as "don't kill people" rather than "don't even think about killing someone". Paul, following the twisted law that was followable, was 'alive' as he wasn't condemned - he was, but he didn't feel it.

2. Then the law came on the Damascus road - Jesus showed him the extent of his sin (Acts 9). The law entered him, and he knew sin, because he realised for the first time that he had done it. He was convicted, he knew he sat on death row - he was dead. The knowledge of the law, like a big "KEEP OFF THE GRASS SIGN" was brilliant for sin to get a tighter grip - sin egged him on to covet more. Paul realised that the law was spiritual and that he was sold under sin (14)

3. Paul wasn't saved yet - he took three days to get to Damascus, and only there did he understand fully - only there did he hear the Gospel - he not only received physical sight, but spiritual sight as well when Ananias healed him. Paul, on that long walk, battled with sin - he tried to do good, but failed to do so.

4. Paul realised that he couldn't do it alone, and needed deliverance - the Holy Spirit regenerating him showed him this, as well as showing him the true nature of the law.

5. Paul arrived at Damascus:
12“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him.14And he said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;15for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ac 22:12-16). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
There, he became a believer - calling on Jesus' name, his sins were washed away.

6. OK, so we ought to go back to the three options for who the 'I' is in 15-25 and examine them:
There are basically three views. The first is that this passage describes a non-Christian Pharisee under the Law (this was the view of the Greek Fathers). The second view is that it describes a normal Christian (the view of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin). The third position is that it describes a carnal Christian.
Hughes, R. K. (1991). Romans : Righteousness from heaven. Preaching the Word (141). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

  • Non-Christian Pharisee under the law - that would describe Paul, to an extent - he didn't trust in Jesus' name yet, and he was convicted by the real law at this point - so yes. Martin Lloyd Jones says that the person in question must be partially regenerate - convicted of sin, delighting in the law, but also not yet a Christian.
  • 'Carnal' Christian - some take this to be what I have above - the Dr Lloyd Jones stance and the Non-Christian Pharisee under the law to be completely unregenerate - clearly, through the love for God's law, it can't be an unregenerate Pharisee. Also the Pharisees have themselves under a different, distorted law - one that they they set up so that they don't break it. These groanings couldn't be that. Anyway, back to 'Carnal' Christians. Kent Hughes doesn't describe it, but thankfully it's described in another book, that I just happened to be reading on Wednesday night - Willing to Believe by R.C. Sproul - it's on page 198 and is talking about a grace-filled believer that hasn't started to co-operate with the Spirit. This, in the book, is kind of considered iffy, and I would agree - if you are regenerate, you would desire, in your will, to co-operate with the Spirit. The person in Romans 7 - rather than the description in The Four Spiritual Laws of someone who has welcomed Christ into their life, but still sits on the throne, this is someone who tries to sit Christ on the throne, but doesn't have Christ in their life yet, so it fails to work. It's the opposite of Jesus as Saviour, but not Lord (the definition of a so-called 'carnal' Christian) - it's Jesus is Lord, but not Saviour.
  • Normal Christians - here we look at the end of verse 25, "So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with the flesh I serve the law of sin" - by now, Paul is completely regenerate: he's praising Christ for saving him, however the tension still exists. What's the law of God and the law of sin - look at 8:2 - it's clearly regenerate - mind serving the law of the Spirit, flesh serving the law of sin and death - the law which we are free from.
It's clear to me that it could be all three view simultaneously, though there's only two people who feel like that - normal Christians and people condemned by the law, but not trusting Jesus yet. The carnal/non- Christian views depend on your definition - it's one of them, and which one doesn't matter, as long as you understand where this person is in his walk with God.

Stott rejects a normal believer, as did Pete, because they were sold to sin (v14) - a normal believer might feel that they are, but their status is that they aren't. However v25 shows that believers have this flesh/mind tension, even though they are not slaves to sin. I feel that my loop theory is the only way to reconcile these two facts. And the best thing about it is that it makes both views correct, to an extent.

Paul still has this battle inside of him, as a believer, just as he did when he was convicted under the law.

7. Paul still can't rely the law to sanctify him, just as he couldn't rely on it to justify him - the main point of this whole second section!

8. Paul gets God to help him be sanctified - the main application (together with point 5) of the passage.

9. Paul continues to have problems with the battle inside of him throughout his life.

Our Status versus Our Reality (NB, both of these are how we really are - through God's eyes and our eyes respectively)
The Christian life is on big 'now and not yet' - Romans 6 and 8 describe our status, how God sees us and our target, whereas Romans 7:15-25 describes our reality, as well as teaching about the law further (see below). Our Status is that we are freed from the law, dead to sin, sons of God (and don't forget that sons do what their Fathers do) and righteous. Our Reality is that we have this tension - sinful flesh wants to sin and still serves the law that brings death, while our mind wants to serve God. This is always the tension we have - a thirst to get out of this frail, sin-corrupted flesh and to put on our resurrection bodies. It's a now and not yet - we've died and risen again with Christ (6:3), but we need to physically do this still - we've only spiritually done it. Grudem shows this tension on p326 of Bible Doctrine at the start of his chapter on Sanctification, with a table of the differences between justification and sanctification.
Justification is: A legal standing, Once for all time, Entirely God's work, Perfect in this life, The same in all Christians
Sanctification is: An internal condition, Continuous throughout life, We cooperate, Not perfect in this life, Greater in some than in others.

Chapter 8 (of Romans, not Grudem) talks about sanctification, as does chapter 6 - showing that as well as justification (relating to status), Romans 7 is talking about sanctification. They talk about both.

Here's a Simon Hollett definition of sanctification: sanctification is the co-operation between the Holy Spirit working in us and ourselves to make us more like our justified status that we gained when we were spiritually resurrected - it is finished by God alone, when we are resurrected physically, however before then we strive to reach the status reliant on the Spirit.

Romans 6 shows that our reality is not the same as our status - "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (6:11) - not that, we must consider ourselves - we are, and we aren't, but we must behave as if we are, for the 'we aren't' will drop away. "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." (6:12-13) Paul shows it to be true that we are dead to sin, but also that while our death to sin came at regeneration, which we had nothing to do with, it also comes about through our sanctification, which we do.

I am righteous, I just don't live like I am. I am dead to sin, I just live like I'm still enslaved. Thanks be to God that my status isn't my reality, but Christ's imputed to me!

What Romans 7:7-25 teaches - the summary
  • That the law isn't sin (7a)
  • That the law reveals sin (7b)
  • That the law is used by sin to produce sin (8-11)
  • That the law leads to death because of sin (9-11)
  • That the law doesn't cause death directly - it is good (12-13a)
  • Above summarised in 13b
  • That the law fails to bring justification, but points to the need for it (14-24)
  • That God brings justification (25a)
  • That believers have a tension in them between the flesh and mind (25b)
  • That the law fails to bring sanctification, but points to the need for it (15-24)
  • That God brings sanctification (25a) - we learn elsewhere that we have a part to play in it too
Please feel free to correct me, rebuke me, encourage me, contribute to this or a mixture of all these things,