Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Epistemology of Love

Epistemology is the study of how we know something. The apostle John understood the epistemology of love very well. So well, in fact, that he has sometimes been called “the apostle of love.” In his letter to the Church, he has a lot to say about love as a way of knowing.
  • “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:5). This is God’s work of love being brought to maturity and completeness in us. We see it at work when we keep His word, His commandment, which is to love one another. And by this love, we know that we are in God (and that God is in us), because love is the work of God in us.
  • “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Here again is the love of God being perfected in us and revealed through love for each other. And by this love we know that we have passed from death to life.
  • “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Here is how we know love itself — the Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life for us (even while we were yet in our sins and rebellion against God), and we manifest that love to each other in the same way, by laying down our lives for each other.
  • “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). Those who love are born of God, because it is God’s love that is being demonstrated through them. And by that love, they know God — for God is love.
  • “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments” (1 John 5:1-2). All who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are born of God, and we can know that He is in us because of love for all those who belong to God. And here is how we can know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep His commandment. Love comes from God, and when we look to Him, He will work in us by that love. His commandment is that we love one another (1 John 3:21). Indeed, all His commandments are fulfilled through love. Paul said, “He who loves another has fulfilled the law … For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8, 10).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don’t Trust in Prosperity

Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His,
    And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
    His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
    But joy comes in the morning.
Now in my prosperity I said,
    “I shall never be moved.”
LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong;
    You hid Your face, and I was troubled.
(Psalm 30:4-7)
Prosperity is wonderful. God wants us to prosper. In another psalm, David says this: “Let them shout for joy and be glad, who favor my righteous cause; and let them say continually, ‘Let the LORD be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant’” (Psalm 35:27). In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul gives us a good description of prosperity when he says, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” This is the abundance of grace He desires to extend to you and me. I’m all for it.

And yet, prosperity can quickly become a big problem for us. David recognizes it in Psalm 30. He experienced prosperity and felt very secure: “I shall never be moved,” he declared. He understood exactly where it came from and he praised God for it: “LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong.”

Everything was great. But then something happened and David looked for God — and could not find Him. He panicked. “You hid your face, and I was troubled,” he said. Somewhere along the way, David had begun looking to his prosperity, instead of to God, for his security.

It can be very easy for our focus to drift away from the Lord because of our circumstances. They often seem so tangible and immediate, when often God does not. And it does not matter whether circumstances are favorable or desperate, they can distract us either way. Remember how Peter walked on water with the Lord Jesus, until he looked around and realized how rough were the wind and the waves, and he began to sink. But then he cried out to the Lord — who had been there all along — and was rescued. Jesus lifted Peter out and returned him to the boat.

But in the scene David recalls for us in Psalm 30, it was not desperate circumstances but the false security of prosperity that shifted his trust away from the Lord. Then when something happened that caused that security, if not his prosperity, to vanish, David was troubled and wondered where God was. Like Peter, he had lost sight of Him. God was still there, even though His face was hidden. Then, realizing once again that it was God Himself, and not the prosperity he had received from God, that made him secure, David cried out to the Lord and was rescued. Reoriented now in his faith, he rejoiced in the Lord:
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
    O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
(Psalm 30:11-12)
God wants to bless and prosper every one of us, but He wants us to trust in Him and not in the blessing or the prosperity. The “good times” may come and go, but it is the Lord Himself who will keep us safe and make us whole. When our trust is in the Lord, though there may be weeping in the night, there will be joy in the morning, for He is always there for us — even in the dark — and His favor endures forever.

Monday, February 17, 2014

As We Have Forgiven Our Debtors?

Here are a few thoughts I had from a recent discussion I was in concerning the petition for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthews 6:12).

Some have proposed that the Lord’s Prayer — the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray — is for those who are under the law and does not apply to those who are not. Some even suggest that is it not for Christians today but for some future tribulation period. However, that raises a few questions:
  • First, where do we find anything in the Law to the effect of what Matthew 6:12 says? This petition does not seem to me to be specific to the Law, or even about the Law in a general way.
  • Second, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also spoke about murder and adultery, and seems to “raise the bar” in regard to the way many thought about them in those days (and still often do today). Does that mean that what He said about those things are not pertinent for us today? Hardly.
  • Third, as I consider the other petitions in that prayer, none of them appear to be about the Law. So why should we suppose that the petition about forgiveness should be understood as being about the Law, when the others are not?
  • Fourth, where do we find any hint that this is only for saints enduring the tribulation period? I don’t see that anywhere in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, or even in the larger context.
One of the significant things I have found as I have searched the Law of Moses is that it does not appear to address the issue of us forgiving others for their sins against us, much less relating our forgiveness of others with God’s forgiveness of us. On the other hand, as I consider the Gospels, I find quite a bit of Jesus’ teaching is about forgiving others. And I think that tells us something important about the kingdom of God.

The Lord’s Prayer is a kingdom prayer: “Thy kingdom come ... Thine is the kingdom,” it says. It is not only about being forgiven ourselves, it is also about us forgiving each other. This forgiveness is about fellowship, not just our fellowship with God but also our fellowship with each other. This is about the kingdom of God, and that kingdom has already begun through Jesus, God's Messiah King.

The Lord’s Prayer does not allow us to think merely individualistically about our relationship with God and whatever He is doing. Rather, it teaches us how we are to live together as the community of God’s people. We do not address, “My Father,” but “Our Father.” It is not merely, “Give me this day my daily bread,” but “Give us this day our daily bread.” And the petition for forgiveness is not simply, “Forgive me my debts,” but “Forgive us our debts.” It is quite appropriate, then, that Jesus adds these words: “as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Thoughts on Justification and Sanctification

A few thoughts from a recent discussion about the theological/biblical concepts of justification and sanctification.

In the Bible, justification is law-court terminology and, therefore, judgment day terminology. When God justifies us, He judges us and declares that we are righteous — that is, in right relationship with Him. When we stand before God on that final day, that is what God’s judgment of us will be, because of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through faith in the Lord Jesus, we know ahead of time what that the judgment on that day will be.

Sanctification is God setting us apart as His own people, conforming us to the image of His Son and transforming us by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the work of God through and through. We do not conform ourselves, nor do we transform ourselves. Indeed, we cannot. It must be the work of God. By grace through faith.

In Ephesians, Paul says, “For we are His worksmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). This is sanctification. The workmanship is God’s, and therefore also the good works — they are His works. In Philippians, Paul tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). This, too, is sanctification, and again, the work is God’s.

We learn to live out the reality of that sanctification by daily choosing to allow the Spirit to control our attitudes and actions, conforming them to His. And by yielding our will to that of the Spirit, we are gaining a very practical salvation from the power of sin. This is sanctification in action.

Now, this yielding, choosing to allow the Spirit to control our attitudes and actions, is not a matter of human work or merit but is all about faith. It is trusting God to work in us by His Spirit. It is no more a work than receiving the gift of eternal life is. It is ceasing from our own works so that God may do His own work in us.

Through faith in Christ, we are already set apart as God’s people. That is a done deal. We are also saved from the power of sin. That is, its power has already been broken at the cross and it no longer has any authority over us. But there is also a sense in which we are presently being saved from the power of sin as we learn to yield to the work of God in us by the indwelling life of Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Discipleship of Gentleness and Humility

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29 NIV)
“Learn from me,” Jesus says. It is an invitation to be His disciple (the Greek word for “learn,” in this verse, and the word for “disciple” come from the same root). What Jesus calls us to learn from Him is gentleness and humility. These are traits that reveal the Lord Jesus Himself, in His incarnation, in the saving work of the cross, and in His exaltation. It is not surprise, then, that the New Testament writers also hold them in high regard:
  • “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:16 NIV)
  • “By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you.” (2 Corinthians 10:1 NIV)
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” (Galatians 6:1 NIV).
  • “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2 NIV).
  • “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12 NIV).
  • “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:23-25)
  • “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2 NIV)
  • “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13 NIV)
  • “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:6-7)
  • “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV).
  • “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).
  • “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5)
Given that Jesus invites us to come and “learn” gentleness and humility from Him, what should Christian discipleship look like?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Today I Have Begotten You

I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
(Psalm 2:7)
In this psalm of David, the Lord says to him, “You are My son, today I have begotten you.” Some have wondered what it means that God has “begotten” him. We usually find the Hebrew word in the “begats” section of Genesis and in other places throughout the Old Testament. So, how can God say to David, “Today I have begotten you”? And what does it mean?

To answer that, we need to look back to the history of David, particularly in 2 Samuel 7, where the Lord made a covenant with David, in which He promised David a throne that would endure forever. Here the Lord says of him, “I will be his father, and he will be my son” (v. 14).

We also find a similar reference to this covenant in Psalm 89, where the Lord says of David, “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” (vv. 26-27).

The author Hebrews quotes Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 together and applies them to the Lord Jesus, to demonstrate the superiority of Christ to the angels:
For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You”?

And again: “I will be to Him a Father; and He shall be to Me a Son”? (Hebrews 1:5)
This Father-son relationship is about David’s kingship. In Psalm 2, the Lord says, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain” (v. 6). Then David recalls God’s promise, “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You’” (v. 7). Or as the NIV puts it: “I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’”

So, the use of “begotten” in verse 7 refers to God’s promise that He would be David’s father, and David would be His son. The language is a bit different, but the meaning is exactly the same. God identifies the king as His son and His son as king. These are words of enthronement and indicate the special relationship He makes with David, and by extension, with those descendants who would reign on David’s throne.

The Hebrew readers in Old Testament times would have been reminded of the covenant God made with David. Of course, they realized very early that David was not the perfect king in whom all the promises and provisions would be fulfilled. However, because they took God as true to His word, they had an expectation that there would one day be a descendant of David who would sit on David’s throne, who would perfectly fulfill the role of king, and in whom all of God’s covenant promises would be made complete. They looked for this One who would be God’s anointed king. In other words, they looked for the Messiah.

This is why it is very significant that Jesus is the Christ. Christ means the same thing as Messiah. It refers to the Anointed. Jesus is the Christ, that is, the one God anointed to reign as king on David’s throne. It is also why it is very important that Jesus is the descendant of David, for only a descendent of David could qualify to sit on David’s throne forever.

This is not merely a matter of historical interest, however, but is also a very important part of Paul’s proclamation of the gospel. We see that in his letter to the believers at Rome, as well as in his final letter, which is to Timothy:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4 NIV)

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel (2 Timothy 2:8 NIV).
These two passages have three things in common in regard to the gospel:
  • They both identify Jesus as Christ, that is, the Messiah.
  • They both present Jesus as descended from David.
  • They both declare the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The fact that Jesus is descended from David is important to His identity as Messiah. Indeed, if He were not descended from Messiah, He could not be the Messiah. The resurrection demonstrates that Jesus truly is the Messiah, Son of God, whom God has anointed as King to reign on David’s throne forever. The gospel is the announcement that this is now so.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reigning King and Well Pleasing Servant

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
This scene is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). John’s account of the Gospel refers to it only indirectly, as John the Baptist simply gives this witness: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him” (John 1:31). But the thing I would like to focus on today are the words that were spoken from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

This is My Son

The first part, “This is My beloved Son,” identifies Jesus as the Son of God. Jewish expectation was that Messiah, God’s Anointed, whom God would establish as king over Israel and the nations, would be His Son. This comes from Psalm 2, which is a messianic psalm. In verse 2, kings and nations conspire together against God’s Anointed. God’s response to them in verse 6 is, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” And He declares to this Messiah King, in verse 7, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” All the nations would be given to Him for an inheritance, and the raging kings would be brought into submission (vv. 8-12).

Israel, in the days of Jesus, was deep in exile and awaited a divine Son, the kingly Messiah. When the time had finally come for this King to arrive, John the Baptist began his ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven it as hand!” (Matthew 3:2). He preached a baptism of repentance and identified himself as the forerunner who was promised in Isaiah 40, the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the LORD.”

And now came Jesus to be baptized of John. This would identify Him with all who were repentant and prepared for true righteousness to be fulfilled. So Jesus was baptized, and the voice from heaven said, “This is my Son.”

In Whom I Am Well Pleased

The second part of the saying, “In whom I am well pleased,” is also full of prophetic significance. It identifies Jesus as God’s “servant” in Isaiah 42: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights!” (v. 1). This also is Messiah, and it becomes clear later on in Isaiah that this Servant would suffer for the sins of His people (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12). However, the Jews were not sure how these two seemingly opposite images of Messiah — as reigning King and as suffering servant — were to be reconciled. Some even thought that there might be two Messiahs. But what the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism shows is that Jesus is the anointed one who would be King over all as well as the one who would suffer for the iniquity of all.

The Servant Messiah

But let’s take a closer look, in Isaiah 42, at this Servant Messiah in whom God is well pleased:
Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles [the nations].
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.

Thus says God the LORD,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
(Isaiah 42:1-7)
This is very much a description of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He came to open blind eyes and set prisoners free from the darkness. He came to bring justice to the earth and a shining light to the nations. He came not only to establish a new covenant with God’s people but to be that new covenant. He is the divine Servant whom Isaiah foretold, and in whom God delights and is well pleased.

Now, notice particularly, in Isaiah 42:1, that God would put His Spirit upon this Servant. And that is indeed what happened at Jesus’ baptism. When Jesus came up out of the water and “the heavens were opened to Him” (which is a very significant thing in itself), the Spirit of God descended like a dove, came upon Him and settled there. This is the anointing by the Spirit of God that showed Jesus to be the Son and Messiah of Psalm 2 as well as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 42. And in this perfect Trinitarian moment, the voice of the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Friday, February 7, 2014

Gentle and Humble in Heart

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30 NIV)
Jesus calls us to come and “learn” from Him. The Greek word for “learn” in this passage is mathete, and from it comes the word for “disciple,” which is mathetes. To be a disciple is to be one who learns. But what is it Jesus calls us to learn from Him? Gentleness and humility.


The Greek word for “gentle” here is praos and is often translated as “meek.” But meekness is not milquetoast. Far from it. It is not weakness but strength. It is, however, a strength that is patient and calm, the kind of strength befitting a king. In the Bible, it takes on the added meaning of being yielded to God.

In the beatitudes, the opening of the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). And when He made His final entry into Jerusalem (which we remember on Palm Sunday), Jesus applied the words of the prophet Zechariah to Himself: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:5 NIV).

Indeed, the promised Messiah would be characterized by this kind of gentleness towards those who were willing. Isaiah prophesied concerning Him, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Is this weakness? Perhaps in one sense it is. But it is this very weakness that would be Messiah’s strength, for look at what it would accomplish, as Isaiah continues his prophesy: “He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth” (Isaiah 42:3-4).


Jesus also calls us to learn humility, for He is “humble in heart.” Often, the burden we must set aside is our own vanity or pride or arrogance. But Jesus is neither vain nor proud nor arrogant. He came to us as a servant. On the night of the Last Supper, He washed the feet of the disciples, saying, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Jesus came to give Himself, even to the point of giving His life. In the book of Philippians, Paul exhorts bickering believers with this profound portrayal of Jesus in His servant humility:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Humility is not something Jesus put on when He became a man and then took off again when He was exalted to the highest place and given the name that is above every name. No, being humble in heart is part of who He is. Being a servant did not camouflage His divinity — it revealed it. It showed that God is, by His very nature, a servant.

The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is the “express image” of God (Hebrews 1:3), and Jesus Himself said that those who have seen Him have seen the Father (John 14:9). So when Jesus says, “I am gentle and humble in heart,” we are seeing something that is not just true of Him in His humanity. It is true of Him in His divinity, and therefore true of the Father as well.

This gentleness, humility and servant heart are basic to the nature of God. For they manifest love, and John tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). It is this nature that caused the Lord Jesus to pour Himself out, to become a human being and submit to a terrible death on the cross for our sake.

It is these God-like qualities that we are invited to come and learn from the one who lives them most deeply. And it is in taking up this yoke of His that we will find rest and restoration in our lives. For the yoke of gentleness is kind and good to us, and the burden of humility is not heavy but light — and it is the Lord Jesus who bears them.

See also Divine Humility, Divine Greatness and The Humble God-Man Exalted with the Highest Glory.