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Posts Tagged ‘Sonship’


Rejoicing in Christ (entitled Life in Christ in the UK) is the follow-up to Michael Reeves’ excellent Delighting in the Trinity. The titles indicate that Reeves takes the answer to WSC #1 seriously. These books are not meant to simply satisfy your intellectual curiosity but inflame your religious affections.

“Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne

This book is very much like its predecessor. It is brief (just over 100 pages), it has brief sections within chapters that focus on an historical figure or idea, and it has some artwork. This last one may prove a problem to some. Some of this classic artwork includes what many would consider a 2nd commandment violation. I see these as instructional, not doxological, thought the point of book is to feed doxology. It is a tough line that perhaps requires more consideration.

Reeves has chapters focused on Christ’s pre-incarnate work, the Incarnation, the death & resurrection, our union with Christ and the return of Christ. This is done with succinct historical reviews, quotes from theologians of days gone by representing the eastern and western churches, pre- and post-reformational. His work is not caught in a moment of historical theology. He also has a Keller-esque way with words as he unfolds contrasts revealing the sweetness and excellency of Christ to help us rejoice in Jesus.

The OT, according to Jesus, teaches us about Christ and His sufferings. Reeves draws on people like Charnock and Calvin to remind us that we only know God as we know Christ. Even in the beginning we see the Word, God speaking as He works. This Word, John tells us is Christ, a God who reveals Himself through His works. The eternal Word indicates to us a God who communicates, who wants to be known, can be known. He also does some apologetics with regard to myths and stories similar to those we find in Scripture. Often they are used to undermine the uniqueness and authority of Scripture, as though it copies them. He relies on C.S. Lewis to flip this; these myths are corrupted reflections of the true Story, they are derivative. This is similar to Currid’s argument in Against the Gods.

The Father is fully delighted in His Son, and for Reeves this transforms our understanding of the gospel. The Father shares His treasured Son with us.

“If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.”

Christ, the One through whom the Father created, is also the One through whom the Father redeems or saves. Reeves spends time examining Original Sin and applies the concept of firstfruits to the subject and that of redemption. Adam was the firstfruit of sin & death. Jesus is the firstfruit of resurrection & righteousness & life. Here was find one of those historical reviews on Irenaeus who saw Jesus as undoing all that Adam had done, restoring creation and humanity from the ravages of sin.

“In a garden, Adam fell down into death; in a garden tomb, Christ rose up from it.”

As Incarnate, Jesus becomes the perfect Man for us. He becomes the perfect image of God to give this status to us. We are called sons of God, whether male or female, because Jesus shares His Sonship with us. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and fulfilled His ministry in dependence on the Spirit gives us the Spirit so we can walk as He did in newness of life.

“Christ shows what it is to be a human, fully alive in the Spirit. And he is the head of a new, Spirit-filled humanity; all in him share in this anointing of his.”

Christ is our only hope for salvation. His righteousness for us. His death for us. His resurrection for us. We face an Accuser who wants us to look to our unrighteousness, our condemnation etc. True assurance of salvation is found in Christ in whom we believe, not in ourselves. He explores this in terms of our being clothed in Christ’s righteousness as Adam & Eve were clothed in the first sacrificial animal, as Jacob received the blessing clothed in Esau’s clothes, etc. He also moves into the Christ entering the true sanctuary for our salvation as foreshadowed in the High Priest entering the earthly copy.

Our salvation and reception of spiritual blessings is “in Christ”, a result of our union with Christ. Reeves doesn’t focus on the union itself so much as the benefits we receive in the union and its focus on Christ. Salvation is a participation in the life of Christ through our union with Him (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20 for instance). Because of His life we bear fruit. Our identity is derived from Him, not one we gain for ourselves. We may suffer spiritual amnesia, forgetting our identity in Christ, but God never forgets our identity in Christ.

“Where self-dependent efforts at self-improvement must leave us self-obsessed and therefore fundamentally unloving, the kindness of God in Christ attracts our hearts away from ourselves to him. Only the love of Christ has the power to uncoil a human heart.”

In addressing Christ’s return Reeves contrasts Jesus with the Dragon and the beasts in Revelation. He helps us to focus on the return of Christ, not all the other stuff people focus on in eschatology seminars. Christ’s return completes the restoration of creation. It will be new and improved. Our future includes a physical and earthly existence. Gnostic views of creation are to be rejected.

“Where the Lamb has suffered death for others, the dragon only seeks to inflict death on others. The one gives out life; the other sucks in life. … where the Lamb speaks for God, the beasts speak against God; where the Lamb rises from the dead to give life to others, the beast rises from its mortal wound only to take life. Where the Lamb goes out to conquer evil, the beast goes out to conquer the saints. Here are two utterly opposed approaches to power and judgment.”

With some books you can be glad you are done. Reeves once again leaves me wanting more. I look forward to reading more from Michael Reeves in the future.

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A web site I visit had mention of the new book by John MacArthur, Slave, based on his sermon series on the topic.  Grace To You has a free offer, if you join their mailing list.  Here is the trailer.

It always concerns me when someone thinks there is a ‘hidden’ word or some sort of conspiracy.  I’m not sure why it took him so long to realize ‘doulos’ means ‘slave’ not servant.  I agree that we need to reckon with this since it is Scripture.  Paul, at times, called himself a slave, to emphasize the reality that he had no rights.  Iain Duguid in his book on Abraham, calls a covenant a relationship marked by submission in which one party surrenders their rights.  That would be us, not God.

We also need to remember that in Philippians Jesus became a slave, obedient unto death to deliver us from slavery to sin (see, you are a slave to something as Bob Dylan sorta sang).

But it obviously is not the only identity we have (as MacArthur mentions in the trailer).  We don’t stop being ‘slaves’ though we are ‘sons’, as the trailer seems to imply.  We are both (like we are both righteous and sinners at the same time, just not in the same sense).

Richard Pratt used to tell us you need to go the the biblical medicine cabinet and choose the right medicine for the personal problems people have.  This requires discernment.  Is it a justification issue?  Don’t talk about sanctification issues, or they will end up legalists.  Sanctification issue?  Don’t address it as a justification issue or they will become antinomians.  Paul does this in the Scriputres.  If people are acting entitled (for instance making too much of their Roman citizenship, or suffering from an over-realized eschatology) he takes out the ‘slave’ pill so they know this is part of their identity.  If they are wrestling with a sense of worthlessness and abandonment, he breaks out the ‘son’ pill so they know and experience the freedom and acceptance of God’s adopted children.

I fear that a popular book like this tends to polarize things.  This should transform some people’s experience because they have a strong sense of entitlement.  They don’t grasp that whole obedience thing.  They think Christianity sets them free from all obligation to pursue all their desires.  This is a huge problem here in the land of the televangelists and consumerism.  But many of the people who would be drawn to a book by MacArthur would have the opposite problem.  I suspect they would need to know of God’s love and acceptance because they are prone to a legalistic spirit.

All this to say, know to whom you recommend this book.  It could be a helpful medicine to their sin-sick soul.  Or it could be deadly, because it is the wrong biblical medicine

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I recently had a conversation with some people who were uncertain about Sonship, a ministry of World Harvest Mission.  They thought the idea that we “never move beyond justification” (accepted by God on the basis of Jesus’ obedience) meant that Sonship did not move on to address our progressive sanctification (becoming more like Jesus in character & obedience).

I tried to explain that “not moving beyond justification” means that our acceptance before God is always based on Jesus’ substitutionary obedience and punishment.  We never become so good, so righteous that we no longer need the work of Messiah on our behalf.  We never out-grow our need to hear, and believe, the gospel.  As such, Sonship is a grace-oriented lifestyle.  Our salvation by grace alone through faith alone includes our sanctification.  As Paul chastized the Galatians, we do not start by grace and persevere by the flesh.  It is from grace to grace, as we trust God to apply the work of Jesus to us by the power of the Spirit.

I think that what throws some people off is that Sonship focuses on our new identity as adopted children of God as a foundation, with justification, for our progressive sanctification.  You find this most clearly in Walter Marshall’s Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.  Counterfeit sanctifaction is when we change through self-effort rather than by grace.  It is an attempt to earn or maintain our standing before God.  But properly understanding and believing in our justification and status as heirs frees us from such attempts, and we rely further for his grace to transform us.

Another aspect that throws some people off is the focus on sins of the heart instead of the external behaviors or sins.  Many people only address that which is seen- words, actions.  These are but the tip of the iceburg, or the stem of the weed.  Beneath them are attitudes of the heart and mind- idols- which produce these effects.  Our sinful attitudes and attachments are the ice below the surface, or the roots of the weed.  To truly make progress in our Christian experience, we must address these in addition to the visible sins.  If you don’t pull up the roots, the weed just grows back.  So, by grace, we seek to kill the root.

So we find that Sonship is concerned about sanctification, but it keeps our progress rooted in our justification, our new status, and addressing our heart in addition to our actions.  I find it to be a more biblical approach to life change, for, after all, grace teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness (Titus 2).  I discover that I’m a bigger sinner than I ever imagined, but that Jesus is a greater Savior than I could ever imagine (1 Timothy 1:15).  Sonship is about gospel transformation!

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The Introduction of Confessions of a Reformission Rev, called Ten Curious Questions, made me want to cry.  I’m not sure what response you had or will have.  But I had the profound sense that I’m not really doing what I want to be doing.  I’m close, but not there. 

His first question is essentially a review of Radical Reformission.  And I know I need reformission.  And I know I need to continue to advance the idea of reformission. 

Part of my profound sadness is that we are neither traditional nor contemporary (traditionary as our ex-intern said).  We are a traditional sort of congregation that has contemporary aspects, but I see a great need to become missional.  I’m not sure how many of us “get it” yet.  I see the church becoming less and less culturally important.  And I don’t think that is a bad thing.

(more…)

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