Monday, March 31, 2014

Anointed with the Holy Spirit and with Power

Peter preached to Cornelius and household about how God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power, which was how Jesus went about “doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). This anointing, however, was not just for Jesus. It belongs to all who belong to God through faith in Jesus.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks about the Holy Spirit and power in relation to those who have received the Lord Jesus. We are, he says, “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14). Then he offers a prayer that God would give us “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” — wisdom and revelation by the Holy Spirit — so that we may know God more and more (1:17). In particular, Paul prays that we may know, deeply and intimately, three things:
  • The hope (joyful expectation, positive anticipation) to which God has called us (v. 18). Paul spoke of this in 1:3-10, about our adoption as children of God, redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the abundance of God’s grace toward us, and about being gathered together along with everything in heaven and on earth into one — into Christ.
  • The riches of the inheritance God has given us (v. 18). Paul spoke of this in 1:11-14, with the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of our inheritance. It is not just about what we have in Christ but also who we are in Him — and who He is in us.
  • The exceeding greatness of God’s mighty power toward us who believe (v. 19).
It is this third one that I want to consider more closely here, for Paul goes on to describe the “exceeding greatness” of that power. It is the very same power by which God raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at God’s own right hand in the heavenlies. That is to say, the power of God has seated Jesus in the place of ruling and reigning. Paul tells us the extent of His reign. It is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (vv. 20-23).

The power God has toward us is not only the power by which God has raised and seated Jesus, it is also the power by which He has made us alive, too, who were once dead in “trespasses and sins” (2:1-3). God has not only made us alive together with Jesus, He has also raised us up together with Jesus and seated us together with Him in the heavenlies — in the place of ruling and reigning with Him (2:5-6).

In Ephesians 3:20-21, Paul speaks of this power again as he takes a moment to offer a praise to God: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

God is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,” Paul says, and He does it “according to the power that works in us.” This is the power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father. the power Paul fervently prays we might have a deep realization about through the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is the power of the Holy Spirit Himself, who is at work in us.

It is far more wonderful than anything have even begun to imagine, and God does not hold any of it back from us. But what does hold it back is our own unbelief. We do not have because we do not ask, James says, and even when we do ask, we ask with wrong motives, because we do not think beyond our own pleasure (James 4:2-3). But faith expresses itself through love, which gives and serves. When our love is lacking, so is our faith. Then we are hindered in our ability to ask, think or imagine the amazing things God wants to do in us, with us and through us in the world.

But God’s Spirit, anointing and power are there in us nonetheless. Waiting.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

For God was With Him

That word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. (Acts 10:37-38)
How did Jesus do the things He did? Jesus gave His own answer at the Last Supper: “The Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10). And now Peter, in his announcement of the gospel to Cornelius provides an answer:
  • God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power.
  • God was with Him.
Now understand, Jesus was (and is) fully divine as well as fully human. In other words, He is God. Yet Peter does not say that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil, for He is God.” Rather, he says that it was because “God was with Him.” The miracles Jesus performed, He performed in His humanity but anointed with the Holy Spirit, and because God the Father was with Him.

But how was God with Him? Remember, when Jesus was baptized, the voice of the Father said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This identified Jesus as the Son God promised would come to rule and reign over Israel and the nations, and whom God would anoint with His Spirit. That anointing happened at Jesus’ baptism. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and rested on Him (Matthew 3:16-17).

The Holy Spirit was always with Him and in Him, of course, but now the Holy Spirit was upon Him, anointing Him (this is why Jesus is called “Christ” or “Messiah,” which means “Anointed”). And when the Holy Spirit comes, there is power. And it was by this anointing and this power that Jesus went about doing good and working miracles of healing and deliverance from demonic oppression.

Peter gives us this account in Acts 10. But think back now to Acts 1, where Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the “Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). By this, He meant that they were to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. He said,
You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
Ten days later, during the festival of Pentecost, as the disciples waited at Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit came upon them — just as He had upon Jesus! Throughout the rest of the book of Acts, the power of the Holy Spirit is revealed in them through miracles, healings, exorcisms, and other ways — even raising the dead. God was with them just as He was with Jesus.

This same anointing with the Holy Spirit and power is available today for all who come to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith. The history of the Church is full of the same sorts of miracles and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. God is still doing today what He has always done, that we may show the evidence of who Jesus is and bring healing and freedom to the nations in Jesus’ name.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Father Who Dwells in Me Does the Works

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. (John 14:10)
How did Jesus do the things He did? Why did He say the things He said? Our first inclination is that it was because Jesus is God — fully divine — and that He therefore operated out of His divinity. But the point of the Incarnation is that the eternal Son of God became fully human to dwell among us as one of us. He did not merely appear human, or put on humanity as a garment. He became human. So Jesus was (and is) fully human as well as fully divine. That has always been the faith proclaimed by the Church.

However, Jesus did not operate out of His divinity. He operated out of His humanity. The miracles, the healings, the exorcisms were all performed by Jesus in His humanity. Even the things He said were spoken by Him in His humanity.

In John 14, we see Jesus on the night of the Last Supper preparing the disciples for what was going to happen over the next days. They had not yet truly comprehended who He was or why He came. Or how He said and did all that He said and did, even though He had spoken of it before:
  • Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. (John 5:19)
  • I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (John 5:30)
  • When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. (John 8:28)
Now He repeats it again as He prepares the disciples for what lay ahead, and He tells them plainly. “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”

Everything Jesus spoke, He spoke by the authority of the Father. Not by His own divine authority as the Son of God, but as a human being who heard the voice of the Father. He said only what He heard the Father saying. He was not seeking His own will or His own words. He was completely about doing the will of the Father. So He listened for the will of the Father and spoke and judged in agreement with it.

Likewise, everything Jesus did, He did by the power of the Father. Not out of His own divine power as the Son of God, but as a human being obedient to the Father and observant of what the Father was doing. He did only what He saw the Father doing. And, indeed, it was the Father dwelling in Him who did the works. Jesus was energized by the Father.

All fine and well, a good study in Christology. Praise God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Ah, but watch how Jesus moves this forward in His instruction of the disciples. Just two verses later, He says,
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12)
Jesus promised whoever believes in Him would do the same works Jesus did. Indeed, they would do even greater works than those Jesus did. Remember now that the works Jesus did, He did not do out of His divinity but out of His humanity — it was the Father who dwelt within Him who actually did the works. Would it be any different for the disciples? Would they be able to do the same works Jesus did (and even greater works) on their own? No! It would have to be God Himself doing the works, just as it was with Jesus.

But then how would this be? The answer I see is in the next few verses and seems to come in two parts, although perhaps they are two sides of the same coin. First, Jesus says,
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
Jesus was going to the Father, but He gave the disciples (and by extension, all who believe in Him) the authority of ask of the Father in His name. And whatever they asked in His name, Jesus Himself would do.

Asking in Jesus’ name is not a matter of tacking “In Jesus’ name” onto the end of our prayers. To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask as Jesus would ask and for the reason Jesus would ask — that the Father may be glorified. Jesus was all about the words of the Father, the works of the Father, the will of the Father and the glory of the Father. His desire was that the Father would be glorified in Him, but also in the disciples.

The second reason the disciples (and us, too) would be able to do the works of Jesus (and even greater works) is this: Jesus said,
If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
When Jesus went to the Father, He was going to ask Him, and the Father was going to give them “another Helper” who would abide with them. This Helper is the Holy Spirit, who was already dwelling with them but would now be in them. It would be God Himself dwelling in them by His Spirit. Just as the Father dwelt in Jesus and was the authority and power behind all Jesus said and did, so also the Holy Spirit was given to dwell in us.

Through prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (and in all who believe on the Lord Jesus), we can manifest the works of Jesus, and even greater works. For it is God Himself who does the works — in us, with us and through us.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Philip’s Gospel to the Samaritans

But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. (Acts 8:12)
The Greek verb for “preached” is euangelizo, which means to evangelize, to preach the gospel. The New International Version translates it as “proclaimed the good news.” Notice then how Luke, who is the author of the book of Acts, summarizes what the gospel message Philip preached was about: 1. The kingdom of God, and 2. The name of Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of God. Back in those days, the Greek word for “gospel,” euangelion, did not refer to just any piece of good news there might happen to be but was about the announcement of an important victory that had been won, or of the arrival of a great king or other dignitary. The book of Mark tells us that “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus was preaching the gospel, announcing the arrival of the God’s long-promised kingdom. And now Philip was taking that good news to the Samaritans, announcing that the kingdom of God had now come into the world.

The name of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God has come into the world precisely because Jesus the King has come into the world. Identifying Jesus as Christ, or Messiah, shows Him to be the King God promised in Psalm 2 (throughout the Old Testament), who would set things right for Israel and rule over the nations.

Going to the Samaritans was a new stage in the mission of the Church. These were not Gentiles, but nor were they altogether Jewish. They were mixed, both ethnically and religiously, and practiced an incomplete form of Judaism. But they did have an expectation about a Messiah who was to come, as we can see from Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in John 4. “I know that Messiah is coming,” she said. “When He comes, He will tell us all things” (John 4:25).

And now here was Philip, venturing out beyond Jerusalem and Judea, stepping outside the boundaries of proper Judaism, to announce to the Samaritans that the Jewish Messiah and His kingdom had now come. That was significant in itself, for as the woman at the well had said, Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans (John 4:9). Just as significant, however, is that these Samaritans eagerly received this good news about Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God, and were baptized in His name.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Paul’s Gospel

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel. (2 Timothy 2:8 NIV)
Let's look at how Paul refers to his gospel, the gospel he preaches, in his letter to Timothy. Notice three key elements in his summary:

  • Jesus the Christ
  • Raised from the dead
  • Descended from David
This is very similar to how he portrays the gospel in Romans 1. We often think of verse 16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ ...” But he describe that gospel in the first four verses of Romans:
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)
Here we can see the same three key elements that we found in 2 Timothy 2:8.
  • Jesus the Christ
  • Descended from David
  • Raised from the dead
Christ means the same thing as Messiah, “anointed,” and refers to the one whom God anointed and established as king over Israel and the nations, as prophesied in Psalm 2. In order for Jesus to be Messiah, it was necessary for Him to have been descended from David, to sit on the throne of David as king over Israel.

The resurrection from the dead by God through the Holy Spirit powerfully demonstrates that Jesus is the Son of God. This identification of Jesus as Son of God and Messiah shows Him to be the one God has chosen to be King over Israel and the all the nations of the earth (see Psalm 2 and Today I Have Begotten You). So Paul understands the ministry of the gospel as calling all the nations to respond to King Jesus in faith and obedience: “Through Him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles [nations] to the obedience that comes from faith for His name’s sake” (Romans 1:5 NIV).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Peter’s Gospel to Cornelius

In Acts 10, the apostle Peter preached the gospel to the household of Cornelius, “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2; see also verse 22). The use of the words, “one who feared God,” indicates that Cornelius was devoted to the God of the Jews, though he was uncircumcised and not fully converted to the Jewish religion.

Peter was divinely instructed in a vision to go and announce the gospel about Jesus the Messiah to one who was a Gentile. This was a new and unexpected turn, and for Peter, a confusing one. His sermon is recorded in Acts 10:34-43( I am using the New International Version), and it is interesting to see how he proceeds, because it is not the way we are used to hearing the gospel preached in many churches today.
Then Peter began to speak: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (vv. 34-35)
This is a very interesting section and raises a number of questions. But that is for another discussion on another day. For now, it is sufficient to point out that Peter’s new realization that the gospel of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, is not just for Jews but also for the Gentiles.
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (v. 36)
Here we see that this is indeed about the gospel. The Greek verb translated as “announcing the good news” is euangelizo, which is the word for evangelism. There are three things to note about the gospel here:

First, we see that the gospel is about “peace.” The Greek word is irene, but being Jewish, Peter would no doubt have had in mind the Hebrew idea of shalom, which speaks of wholeness and restoration. This gospel is about peace with God, reconciliation between God and man, a restoration to proper relationship. Paul’s understanding was that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). That is the peace that Peter’s gospel announces.

The next thing we see is that this peace comes through Jesus the Messiah. Being a Roman centurion, Cornelius would have been aware of the prevalent Roman sentiment that Caesar was the one who brought peace into the world (Pax Romana, the “Roman peace”). But as one who “feared God,” he would also, no doubt, have been familiar with the messianic expectation, that it would be Messiah (and not Caesar) who would bring true peace and salvation into the world. And now Peter’s gospel specifically identifies Jesus as that Messiah. This peace comes through Jesus.

The third thing to note is that Jesus the Messiah is explicitly identified as “Lord of all,” not just the Lord of the Jews but also of the Gentiles — indeed, Lord over the whole world. As Peter earlier preached at Pentecost, God has made this Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. (vv. 37-39)
Being a centurion, Cornelius would have likely been aware of the new sect (Christians) that had arisen, and something about the figure it was centered around, and may have recognized right away who Peter was speaking of. Peter describes a bit about Jesus and His ministry and how His anointing was revealed. Peter did not speak merely of what he had heard but he was an eyewitness to the things Jesus did in Jerusalem and throughout Judea.
They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. (vv. 39-41)
Here is the cross and the resurrection. But we see that it is the resurrection that receives the much greater emphasis here. This is consistent with what we find throughout the book of Acts: The cross is mentioned a few times, but almost in passing, and not in terms of atonement or of a penalty paid for sin, of as something done in our place. In the epistles, both Peter and Paul do talk about those things, and they are important. But Peter does not speak of any of that here in the gospel message he brings to Cornelius. There is indeed salvation in the cross, but Peter does not explain how it is that the cross saves. He is much more focused on the resurrection.
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. (v. 42)
After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and before He ascended to heaven, He announced to the disciples, “All authority has been given to men in heaven and on earth.” Then he sent them into the world to go and make disciples in the name of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). In Acts 1, where Luke records this commission in a bit different way, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples at Pentecost, and they would be His witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem and extending throughout the earth.

But what is particularly interesting here in Peter’s gospel to Cornelius is the point about which he is sent to testify. It is a point about judgment day, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God has appointed as judge of the living and the dead. This is the same point Paul makes when he preaches the gospel to the Greek philosophers in Athens, that God has “appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (v. 43)
Finally, Peter announces that all who have faith in Jesus the Messiah, who is Lord of all, receive forgiveness of sins. This was the same message the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament testified about the Messiah, and now fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord of all.

Peter offers no explanation of how this forgiveness can now be so. He has brought no theory about the atonement, or justification, or even the cross. He simply announces that it is so, for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have forgiveness of sins.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How Does the Cross Save Us?

How does the cross save us? This is a question about the atonement, that is, how does the work of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross bring salvation?

(This question is not about how we receive salvation — we receive it by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, it is about how the cross effects salvation.)

We often think of atonement as the “payment” Jesus made or the “penalty” Jesus bore for our sins on our behalf in order to turn away the wrath of God. This theory is called “penal substitutionary atonement” (PSA). It's prominence today is largely a development of the Reformation and has been the front-and-center theory of atonement for much of evangelicalism today. Though other theories have also been accepted by evangelicals, it is PSA that has been given pride of place and is in the driver’s seat about what atonement is and means.

However, the problem of the world and of humanity was not that there were sins that somehow needed to be paid for or penalized. The problem was that mankind was in bondage to sin — we needed to be set free from the power of sin. This was accomplished at the cross. Paul says,
  • Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:6-11)
  • For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. (2 Corinthians 13:4)
  • I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
  • But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:14-15)
The work of Christ on the cross means that we are now dead to sin and no longer in slavery to it — sin no longer has rightful dominion over us. Christ was crucified in our place, so we are now crucified to the world and the world is crucified to us. In the atoning work of Christ, we are made “new creation.” In the cross, the power of God was revealed, and it is by this same divine power that we can now live.

There is also another major aspect that Christ addressed on the cross. That is the matter of the devil and of death. “The whole world,” John tells us, “is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). But John also assures us that, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

The power of the devil was broken at the cross. When Jesus predicted that He would be crucified, which was about to happen shortly, He said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31). The “ruler of this world” is the devil. At the Last Supper, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of judgment, “because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:11). This judgment and casting out of the “ruler of this world,” happened at the cross.

Paul speaks of how Christ, “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15). The principalities and powers are the demonic influences that so often control governments and cultures in the world. It was at the cross that Christ disarmed them, made a public spectacle of them and triumphed over them.

The author of Hebrews also speaks of the victory of Christ over the devil: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). The power of death was broken at the cross because the power of the devil was broken at the cross.

Through the cross, we are reconciled to God, brought back into proper relationship with Him. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them,” Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:19). “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

In Philippians 2, it is because of the cross that Jesus has been highly exalted and given the name that 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.” In other words, the reign of Christ over all heaven and earth has been established by His work on the cross. And now, as Paul says, “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24).

The saving work of Christ on the cross was not about payment and/or penalty, or appeasing the wrath of God. The very power of sin, of death and of the devil was broken so that now all may be dead to sin and alive to God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Receiving the Kingdom

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12:28)
Jesus said that the Father, His and ours, is very pleased to give us the kingdom of God. It is purely a matter of His love and grace — and with it, we receive everything. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:33). God does not hold back any good thing from us but gives it all freely.
  • We are not bringing the kingdom — we are receiving it.
  • We are not building the kingdom — we are receiving it.
  • We are not advancing the kingdom — we are receiving it.
God, not us, is the one who is bringing the kingdom, building the kingdom, advancing the kingdom. Our part is to recognize it, believe it, embrace it and bear witness to it in every area of life.

We can no more bring in the kingdom and save the world by our own works than we can save our souls by our own works. But just as “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23), so also is the kingdom of God — it is the gift of God in Christ Jesus, whom God has made Lord over heaven and earth.

Note the tense in Hebrews 12:28. It is not “we have received,” as if the kingdom of God has been fully revealed in the world and we have taken complete possession of it. Nor is it “we will receive,” as if the kingdom is all and only in the future. But it is “we are receiving,” which indicates something that has already begun and is now in progress even though it is not yet complete.

We are in the process of receiving it now, ever since the Lord Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) and seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:19-23). It has already begun in the world but it has not yet been arrived in all it’s glory and fullness. We live in between the times, between the inauguration and the consummation of God’s kingdom in the world.

One day the kingdom will indeed be complete in all the earth. Then King Jesus will “deliver the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.” Until then, “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).

In the meantime, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, and we are now in the midst of receiving it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Faith Without Love is Dead

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” That is what Paul said in his letter to the Jesus believers of Galatia (Galatians 5:6). We are not justified — that is, identified as being in right relationship with God — by performing certain rituals, such as circumcision (which was the issue of the day for the churches in Galatia). No, we are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The nature of faith is that it expresses itself in love, and it turns out that love fulfills the law of God. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).

This is also essentially what James says in his letter to scattered Jewish Christians, though some in the Church have had difficulty seeing it. Martin Luther, champion of “justification by faith” in the days of the Protestant Reformation, thought the letter of James to be “a right strawy epistle.” However, he had gotten so tightly wound up in his own rhetoric that he missed the meaning of James. But see how James speaks about faith:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. (James 2:14-19 NIV)
In James’ mind, there are two kinds of faith. He draws the contrast between a faith that is alive and one that is dead. You can tell the difference by the action that accompanies it, or does not accompany it. And the accompanying action James has in mind has everything to do with love. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8).

To be clear, James is not telling us how to be justified before God by our deeds. Nor is he telling us about a sort of faith that justifies us before men that is different from the faith one that justifies us before God. But what he is telling us is something about the nature of the faith that justifies us before God — it is a faith that is accompanying by action. This is very like what Paul taught, as we can see in Galatians 5:6, and also in Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
A faith that never goes beyond acknowledging propositions about God or Christ or the cross is a dead faith. Even the demons have that, and it causes them to tremble. But that is not the same thing as trust. A dead faith is devoid of life and is completely useless. The only thing left to do with something that is dead is to bury it. Such is a faith that is without love.

Look at the example James gives. Suppose a brother or sister who is destitute comes along, and someone says, “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but does absolutely nothing to aid them in their need, even if it is in his power to help. Is that faith? Hardly. The man who does that doesn’t even believe his own words, much less have faith in God.

Faith that is alive and real actually makes a difference in how we live and how we respond. It is accompanied by action. Faith without action is dead. So is faith without love. Yet even love, if there is no accompanying action, is dead.

Paul and James would both point us to the same thing: It is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that saves us. But the nature of that faith is that it expresses itself through love and is accompanied by action.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Faith That Expresses Itself Through Love

The apostle Paul has a lot to say about faith in his letter to the Jesus believers of Galatia. He writes to exhort them, and even rebuke them, concerning the gospel. They have tolerated Jewish Christian legalists coming in and teaching that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not enough, but that certain elements of the law such as circumcision are necessary for Gentile converts to be identified as being in right relationship with God. However, Paul is adamant that faith in Christ is not only sufficient but is the only thing that counts.
  • “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
  • “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:16).
  • “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2). The implied answer is that is was by faith.
  • “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:5). Again, the implied answer is that it was by faith.
  • “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).
  • “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Galatians 3:8-9).
  • “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘The man who does them shall live by them.’”(Galatians 3:11-12).
  • “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us ... that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14).
  • “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:22-26)
So Paul is very clear — and very insistent — that it is not by keeping the law that we are identified as being in right relationship with God. Rather, it is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But now look at what Paul says about the nature of faith, particularly in contrast to the law and circumcision:
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:4-6 NIV)
The contrast here is between trying to justified by the law of Moses, particularly in the matter of circumcision, and being justified by faith. The only thing that counts is faith, and the nature of that faith is that it expresses itself through love.

That is what faith does in our life — it results in love. Love for God and love for others. For by faith in Jesus Christ we are not only reckoned as right with God, but we also receive the Holy Spirit by that same faith. And the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Paul tells us, is love (Galatians 5:22). That is something the law could never produce in us and yet what perfectly fulfills the law (Galatians 5:14).

The faith in Christ that justifies us is not merely a mental agreement with the facts of who Jesus is or what He has done. That kind of faith is really nothing more than a head fake. But the faith in Christ that justifies us is the faith that expresses itself through God-formed love.

Friday, March 14, 2014


Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
God created us in the image and likeness of God — to be like Him. His plan was for us to represent Him on the earth and exercise dominion on His behalf. However, that image was marred when Adam rebelled against God, and through Adam, all humanity was bent toward evil and made subject to death. And the expectation of godly dominion on the earth was shattered.

Which is why Jesus came. The eternal Son of God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) in order to redeem us and restore creation to godly dominion. Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). The author of Hebrews calls Him the “express image” of God’s person.

In Jesus Christ, not only is our humanity restored but so also our godlikeness. All who believe on Him are part of that restoration; Paul says that we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). So then, we are being conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the express image of God. We have “put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:9-10).

Though Peter does not use the word “image,” he does indicate the same reality concerning our restoration to godlikeness:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4)
Through the Lord Jesus Christ, we become partakers of the divine nature, participants in what God Himself is like. This does not mean, however, that we become God Himself. We do not participate in who God is in His infinite powers — His omnipotence, omnipresence, or omniscience, for example. But we do share in the life of God, who is immortal. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). And we partake of the character of God, which can be summed by one word, love, “for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

This is the direction Peter moves in. Directly after the promise of being partakers of the divine nature, he adds, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Love is what caps it all off, bringing faith to completion.

Paul also speaks of the divine nature of love, in the book of Galatians, where he identifies love as the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is perfectly fulfilled by Him. Love heads the list, and all the other “fruit” that follows can be understood as manifesting love.

We were created to be like God, who is love. In Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, we are being restored to that likeness. And that changes the world.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

King Jesus and the Creation Mandate

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
God created man, male and female, in His own image and according to His likeness. Then He blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion. This is called the “creation mandate,” also known as the “cultural mandate.” It was not given as a means for selfish exploitation but for stewardship on God’s behalf. This is why it is important that man was created in the image of God and to be like God.

God’s purpose was for all creation to be filled with Godlikeness, reflecting the glory of God in every thing and in every way. In other words, it was that the will of God would be done on earth as it is in heaven, just as Jesus taught us to pray in what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”

The Hebrew word for “subdue” means to bring under subjection. Though God created the Garden of Eden in the world, and it reflected the glory of God to the world, the whole world itself was not yet a garden. That is what God intended for man to do, to bring the rest of the world into alignment with the divine pattern of Eden. The result would be, in a very real way, heaven on earth.

However, man rebelled against the will of God and in doing so disconnected from the life of God. And instead of heaven on earth, hell was unleashed. That is why, to make a long story short, Jesus came. He became flesh and dwelt among us in order to redeem the world of humanity, and even creation itself.

At the cross, Jesus defeated sin, death and the power of the devil — every thing that worked against humanity and creation. Then God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). All who belong to Christ when He comes again will likewise be raised from the dead, as Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 15, the “Resurrection Chapter.”
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:22-24)
Between now and then, King Jesus is in the process of bringing all things into alignment with His kingdom: “For He must reign,” Paul says, “till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). All authority on earth as well as in heaven has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18) and through the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) He is bringing humanity into line with His kingdom. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will one day confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God (Philippians 2:9-11), and all who belong to Him will be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29). Creation itself awaits that day:
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
The creation mandate God gave to the first Adam is being fulfilled by the Last Adam, King Jesus the Messiah.