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Posts Tagged ‘Redeemer’


Some of my uncles growing up were in construction. Most of my brothers-in-law are in construction. So as I think about the 2nd part of Bavinck on the Christian Life, I think about a construction metaphor. If the first part was the foundation, the second would be the framing.

There were only two chapters in the second part. Recall that the foundations were creation in God’s image, the Law and union with Christ. The two chapters in this section are Imitating Christ and Worldview.

Bavinck understood the Christian life as one of imitating Christ. We need to see this in terms of God restoring His image in us, in accordance with the Law, through our union with Christ. I say this because may have seen the Christian life as imitating Christ, but meant something different.

Recall as well that this is intended to be an ordinary life, not viewed as radical. We partake of earthly goods, but they are not ultimate goods. We enjoy them as part of God’s good gifts, but they are temporal and temporary. As the song goes, hold on loosely.

Bavinck looked at the historical patterns of this theme. Bolt summarizes this for us. Bavinck identified dangers and wrong turns.

The early Church was a persecuted Church. This is because they claimed to be the only true religion, and Christ claimed their ultimate allegiance. Rome did not like that. With martyrdom a real possibility, it unfortunately became “regarded as a matter of glory and fame” (pp. 106). It became pathological, similar to what we see with radical Islam today.

Monastic separation created a divide between clergy and laity. Professional Christians tend to breed “incompetence and an unspiritual life-style.” He noted the rise of the Waldensians, and others, who simplified doctrine and emphasized holiness. Soon you also saw the rise of the “mendicant armies” who exalted poverty above all other virtues. Medieval mysticism came to see Jesus as model, not Mediator and Redeemer.

Any view of imitating Christ that neglects Him as Redeemer is sub-biblical and rejected by Bavinck. This brings us back to union with Christ as the primary element of imitation. He believed we were not to simply look and act like Jesus, but to be transformed inside.

Bolt then brings us to the Sermon on the Mount. Bavinck’s views shifted, with his latter view more nuanced. World War I lay between point A and B. It helped him see some problems with his understanding, and deepened his understanding. Bavinck understood it in its original context as to His disciples who would face persecution. We cannot simply woodenly apply it to our circumstances. The Sermon was about obeying the law of God in your circumstances. Our circumstances may be different, and therefore our obedience may look differently. They lacked power in culture, and were to let their light shine. “If the early church had tried to transform its world through cultural engagement, it “would have quickly drowned in the world’s maelstrom.” (pp. 115)” As Christianity loses power in the West, we need to recognize how we imitate Jesus will change. We will become more like the early church. We can’t focus on cultural engagement, but “simply” preach the Good News.

Bolt summarizes all this with “our following Jesus in lawful obedience is grounded and shaped by our union with the whole Christ. (pp. 117)” Therefore we focus on our obligations, not our rights. This is hard for sinful, self-absorbed people.

The chapter on worldview is more theoretical. Bolt covers specific aspects of the worldview in which we fulfill our vocations and imitate Christ in part 3 of the book. The concept of a Christian worldview appears to be first articulated by Kuyper in his Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton. Bavinck would also talk and write much about this topic. While the particulars were nearly identical, their methodology was different, as was their application. This lead to some conflict between the two men in later years. Kuyper was the more “dogmatic” of the two, and comes across as an autocratic leader. Bolt traces this history, and I won’t repeat it.

But one key area went back to regeneration. Kuyper viewed, at the risk of reductionism, regeneration creating two kinds of people with two kinds of science. Bavinck was more open to receiving the science done by unregenerate Christians. As image bearers, they could see something of the truth too. Kuyper was engaged in cultural conflict, Bavinck was more open to learning from non-Christians.

For Bavinck, a worldview broke down into thinking, being and doing. The relationship between these is important. For Bavinck,, being is first. As we become self-aware we think and do. Bolt notes that “worldview follows faith and union with Christ; it does not create faith and is no substitute for it. (pp. 125)” Worldviews are how we navigate our way through the world, other humans and God.

For the Christian, our worldview is about God revealing Himself to us, as well as revealing truth about ourselves and the world. God is faithful and good, revealing these things truthfully and reliably. While he acknowledges the distortions caused by sin, he doesn’t focus on them like Kuyper and Van Til.

“The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.”

These frames, built on the foundation, will direct our understanding of the Christian life. We’ll get to that next time.

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In preparing for my sermon on Sunday I re-read Jonathan Edwards’ discourse “Men are Naturally God’s Enemy”. Nestled in there was the following:

“All the sin that men commit, is what they do in the service of their idols: there is no one act of sin, but what is an act of service to some false god. And therefore wherein soever God opposes sin in them, his is opposite to their worship of idols: on which account they are his enemies. God opposes them in their service of their idols.”

Idols are our functional saviors, what we use to supplement (or replace) the living and true God. We use them to “save” us from the realities of life in a fallen world. They offer pleasure, distraction, hope and other benefits. Not that they can deliver. But we rely on them, and their false promises, anyway.

As Tim Keller notes, these idols are often good things. We aren’t talking about little statues we bow down to each morning. But they function as gods in our lives. They have our allegiance. We rest our sense of security on them. This we do because, as John Calvin noted, our hearts are factories of idols. Not that we create idols, but turn good things into idols. The problem is not “out there”, but “in here”.

As I lay in bed, wishing I was asleep, I was struck by the fact that our most common idols are found in the first few chapters of Genesis. Sure, there are modern ones like fancy sports cars (or luxury sedans or…), all things Apple, and other inventions. Or science, many bow down there accepting whatever science says (this week) without recognizing that scientists are finite, sinners with (often ungodly) presuppositions instead of purely objective thinkers and observers. But most of our idols have been there from the beginning. As a result, they go unnoticed by most people.

In one of the books I’ve read (it’s been a few years and my aging mind can’t remember which one and I don’t have the free time to chase it down), the author tells of a person from India coming to the States. Now, when people from the States go to India they are struck by the sheer number of little idols, statues to gods, that are seemingly everywhere. Yet, this person arrived on our shores aghast at all of our idols! It is always easier to see other people’s idols. Just like it is easier to see their splinter while not noticing the log in your eye.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1 (ESV)

We see here a number of idols, or functional saviors, that enslave people. I guess I could start with religion. I’m not talking faith in the God of the Bible, but that tendency toward ritual and legalism that provide us with a false sense of assurance. But I won’t.

Marriage is a frequent idol for people. They think it a refuge from loneliness, economic insecurity and hopelessness. Many single people think life would be tolerable if only they were married. Many married people live in fear of their marriage ending and don’t take the necessary steps to make that relationship healthier and godly. They so need the approval of their spouse they never say ‘no’ and live in misery because they fear a greater misery.

Connected to marriage by God, but disconnected by humanity, is sex. We live in a society of sex addicts, or idolators. Sex offers them, they think, enough pleasure to overcome the pain and boredom of life that they become enslaved. They think it offers intimacy, but forsake its intended intimacy through objectification of various kinds. It often destroys the relationships we so desperately want.

Also connect to marriage by God, and increasingly disconnected by people, is children. Many seek love from (rather than giving love to) children. They seek immortality through their children. They seek to fulfill their own failed goals through their children. Many people place intolerable burdens on their children, destroying them as a result.

We also find control. We are to subdue and rule creation- under God’s authority. But we try to play God and make everything bend to our authority. We crave control, fearing we are not sufficient to meet the challenges of unexpected events or circumstances. It destroys relationships like acid (then we wonder why the person left even as we try to manipulate them back into the relationship).

We also make a god of creation. Our idol factory hearts twist stewardship of creation into environmentalism so that the environment and/or animals become more important than people made in God’s image. People begin to sacrifice real and potential relationships on the altar of being green. They look to their pets to fill the black hole in their hearts that crave unconditional love. We should care for the environment and animals, including pets, but many give them ultimate status in their universe.

Work is another functional savior for people. (For others the avoidance of work is their idol). They seek to be utterly independent, secure and safe thru their work. It provides an ultimate meaning for them that only God is intended to have. They turn the image of God in on itself. God works, and calls us to work. It is the ordinary means of providing our needs. But in God’s providence, at times we endure hardship that we might be humble and experience grace and compassion so we will be ready to extend grace and compassion.

“A true hope looks forward to the obtaining of happiness in no other way but the way of the gospel, which is by a holy Savior, and in a way of cleaving to and following him.” Jonathan Edwards in Charity and Its Fruits

All of these things, as God gave them to us, is good! But we ceaselessly give them more importance than intended. We use them in the place of God to provide us with satisfaction, security, pleasure and even salvation. All that we have turned into functional saviors can only be returned to their rightful place as we seek all our significance, meaning, security and satisfaction from Christ. This only happens as we see the the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as Creator and Redeemer. As Jonathan Edwards argues, only when we see Christ as sufficient to bestow all the happiness we need, will we forsake other means to secure earthly happiness.

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The other evening the wife & I were watching the season finale of Burn Notice on our DVR.  I thought it an apt metaphor for our current experience.  The main character, Michael Weston, is a spy who is blacklisted and dumped in Miami.  The show is about his quest to discover why he was blacklisted (false accusations), and how he helps people in need of his specialized skills on the way.

At times I feel blacklisted and dumped in central Florida.  This is all perception, not actuality.  I can’t seem to move forward and on.  It’s as if we are stuck here trying to make ends meet while using my specialized skills to help churches in need.  I can’t explain why we remain here- it is not through a lack of trying (I’ve lost track of the open positions for which I have applied).  But in the midst of this, I have to keep returning to 1 Peter 4:

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (NIV)

I am here by God’s will.  I am between calls by God’s will.  I can’t change things, but I can be responsible.  I continue to ‘do good’ or be obedient to Him and work for the good of the church.  I also entrust my family into the hands of my Faithful Creator and Redeemer.  I can’t sit and moan, withdrawing into a shell.  I can trust and continue to do what I’ve been called to do as opportunities permit.  And so I shall, even as I pray:

9 Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. … 14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. 16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. 17 Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I have cried out to you; …19   (Ps. 31 NIV)How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.

20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.  (Ps. 33 NIV)

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I just finished Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth by Sinclair Ferguson.  I wish I had had this book when I preached through Ruth in the Spring of 2007 (chap. 1, chap. 2, chap. 3, chap. 4).  Originally given as a series of addresses presented to the English Conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales back in 1996, he was asked to adapt them into written form.  It took some time, but he ‘just happened’ to come across his disk of the material and finished the project.

This exposition is neither overwhelming to the lay person or too simplistic for the pastor looking for substance.  As usual, Dr. Ferguson is like a mother bird, digesting difficult material and regurgitating it for the benefit of the average person.  He does not avoid, nor get mired in, Hebrew and the historical background.  There is enough to make his points clear, and not so much you lose that point.

Ruth is a story of grace and providence; or put another way how God graciously acts for His glory and our good in providence.  Ruth, Naomi and Boaz aren’t sure what God is doing until after the fact.  The same is true for us as well.  We are often prideful and presumptuous, thinking we know what God is doing.  But His purposes are not crystal clear until after the fact- sometimes LONG after the fact.  In this case, the little romance is cute but meaningless until we see that first David and then many generations later Jesus himself are the purposes God has in view as He works to bring Ruth to Himself by faith, into Israel and eventually into the home of Boaz.

There is much to chew on here if you are in the midst of a difficult providence.  But I get ahead of myself.  He begins with an introduction that points us to 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  On the basis of this passage, and its context, he says we should always ask ourselves 4 questions:

  1. What does it teach us?
  2. In what areas of our lives does it rebuke us?
  3. What healing, restoring, transforming effect does this teaching have?
  4. How does this section of Scripture equip me to serve Christ better?

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Though I grew up in a nominally Catholic family, and went to Mass most Saturdays, I grew up affirming evolution.  Like most boys, I like dinosaurs and cavemen.  We had the Time Life series of books on science, and I spent lots of time reading about the theory of evolution (sadly I’ve engaged in debates with people whether it was a theory, a hypothesis etc. but I don’t care what you call as long as you don’t call it a fact).  In school we watched those videos about the moths in England near the factories and other stories of evolution within a species.  I had no reason to doubt that this was an accurate interpretation of the data and explanation for our existence on this planet.  In fact, I did not doubt it was true.

Off to Boston University (no, not Boston College the more famous Catholic institution down the street that we usually beat in hockey).  I was required to take a lab science.  I hate lab sciences.  I inevitably mess up the experiments.  But just prior to my sophomore year, a class caught my eye.  It was …. Bioastronomy and the Search for Extraterrestial Life.  It was a lab science, but one without experiments!  I was all over that class!

The premise of the course was that the only way to determine if the possibility there was life on other planets was to study how life supposedly came to exist on this planet.  As a result we studied astronomy and evolution to arrive at an equation to determine that possibility.

A liberal blog that decided to make fun of my in this matter among others, figured that the professor didn’t do a very good job.  I think the professor did a fine job communicating the material to the converted.  But something happened to me.  I began to see all the factors that were vital to the existence of life.  At the end of the class there was a 1 in 10 to the 26th power chance of there being life (or something like that).  That is 1 followed by 26 zeroes.  That seemed quite unlikely to me.

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I’ve made my way through the first 6 chapters of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp.  I’ve come across another one of those books I wish I’d read in seminary.  It would have been helpful not just in my own personal ministry, but to help equip others for their personal ministry in the church.  Yes, the one another kind of ministry that Scripture repeatedly mentions.

In chapter one, Tripp lays out the fact that our redemption in Christ is what makes all other change possible.  Those changes are not disconnected or isolated from the redemption that Jesus purchased for us. 

The good news confronts us with the reality that heart-changing help will never be found in the mound (creation).  It will only be found in the Man, Christ Jesus.  We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles.  We offer people a Redeemer.  In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies.  Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change.

He briefly unpacks the damage sin has done to us.  This is why we need a Redeemer so badly.

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It has been over a decade since I’ve read The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.  I’ve been wanting to read it again, and I started today. 

Today I read through Book I, chapters 1-2.  Chapter 2 ends with this idea:

“Here indeed is pure and real religion: faith so joined with an earnest fear of God that this fear also embraces willing reverence and carries with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed in the law.” (I, 2, 2)

Faith is joined in fear.  We believe what God says and we hold Him in such reverence that we worship Him as He deems right.  True faith does not lead us to take God lightly; rather we take Him and His Word seriously.  How does Calvin get there?

True wisdom is comprised of knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.  Calvin argues that we cannot know ourselves accurately apart from knowing God.  We learn about God as we learn about ourselves.  He doesn’t go there just yet, but this is based on the fact that we are made in the image of God (imago dei).  You can’t possess true wisdom without knowing God.  You can’t possess true wisdom without knowing yourself.  This is essentially the path of the Proverbs.

“For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy- this pride is innate in all of us- unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity.  Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standarnd by which this judgment must be measured.”  (I, 1, 2)

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