Ian Stamps – The Discipline of Sacrifice
Dave Jenkins – Jesus Explains His Example (John 13:12-17)
Paul Tripp – Parenting is Gospel Ministry
Holiness has too often been embroiled in confusion and distortion within the Christian community and, sadly, ends up being neglected rather than cultivated within the church. This is especially true in times, like our own, when the gospel becomes more ‘me-focused’ than ‘God-focused’.
Holiness is the great goal of Christ’s saving mission. According to Paul, his purpose in redemption was ‘to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’ (Tit 2.14). The author of Hebrews urges his readers to ‘pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (He 12.14 [NRSV]. And Jesus himself states it even more bluntly with the words, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 6.48).
Holiness matters. And it matters far more than we are willing to admit. We may be quite happy to engage in argument and debate over the meaning of the concept in Scripture, but make little effort to fight the inward battles involved in the pursuit of holiness in our daily lives.
This struck me recently while reading Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Summing up the main thrust of his letter, he tells them,
Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord to do this more and more (1Th 4.1) [NIV – italics added].
He goes on from there to walk them through some of the glaring failures that were literally a blot on the landscape of the church’s witness in that town and surrounding area. Reminding them that ‘it is God’s will that you should be sanctified’ he goes on to catalogue the list of sexual sins (private as well as public) that were clearly a matter of common knowledge in their wider community. He then says, ‘For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life’ (4.7).
Secular humanism has no way of explaining either the greatness or the tragedy of human existence. However, the biblical story of creation and the fall provides the basis for affirming both human dignity and depravity. We are born into the world “in Adam,” that is, as glorious traitors.
Glorious in Every Way
God created us for His glory. We exist for Him, not He for us. And yet, unlike the rest of creation, we were created in God’s image for a special relationship with Him, naturally “endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in [our] hearts, and power to fulfill it” (Westminster Confession of Faith 4.2). According to Scripture, human beings are neither semi-divine nor demonic, but creatures who have been given a royal dignity as God’s viceroys.
Adam and Eve were both created in God’s image, but God made Adam the federal head of the human race. Would Adam acknowledge gratefully his dependence on God and His revelation? Or would he seek to usurp God’s throne, determining for himself what he would believe and how he would live?
The next season which requires more than commons diligence to keep the heart—is when we receive injuries and abuses from men. Such is the depravity and corruption of man, that one is become as a wolf or a tiger to another. And as men are naturally cruel and oppressive one to another, so the wicked conspire to abuse and wrong the people of God. “The wicked devours the man who is more righteous than he.” Now when we are thus abused and wronged, it is hard to keep the heart from revengeful motions; to make it meekly and quietly commit the cause to Him that judges righteously; to prevent the exercise of any sinful affection. The spirit that is in us lusts to revenge; but it must not be so. We have choice helps in the Gospel to keep our hearts from sinful motions against our enemies, and to sweeten our embittered spirits. Do you ask how a Christian may keep his heart from revengeful motions under the greatest injuries and abuses from men? I reply—When you find your heart begin to be inflamed by revengeful feelings, immediately reflect on the following things:
1. Urge upon your heart the severe prohibitions of revenge contained in the Word of God. However gratifying to your corrupt propensities revenge may be, remember that it is forbidden. Hear the word of God: “Say not, I will recompense evil.” Say not, I will do so to him as he has done to me. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written—It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary—If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” It was an argument urged by the Christians to prove their religion to be supernatural and pure—that it forbids revenge, which is so agreeable to nature. Awe your heart, then, with the authority of God in the Scriptures; and when carnal reason says, ‘My enemy deserves to be hated!’ Let conscience reply, ‘But does God deserve to be disobeyed?’ ‘Thus and thus has he done, and so has he wronged me.’ ‘But what has God done that I should wrong him? If my enemy dares boldly to break my peace, shall I be so wicked as to break God’s precept? If he fears not to wrong me, shall not I fear to wrong God?’ Thus let the fear of God restrain and calm your feelings.
The actions of Adam and Eve in the garden after they had sinned tells us much about mankind. When they heard God walking in the garden they hid themselves. Man has been running from God ever since. Like an ostrich buries its head in the sand to hide from the lion so man attempts to ignore God. This strategy does not work out very well for the ostrich and it does not workout very well for mankind.
Man was created to know God. Man was created by God for God. So human life never works as it was meant to work apart from a relationship with God. And sin is to blame for this brokenness. Sin has caused a breach in man’s relationship with God. This ought not be.
The 1689 Confession explains, “To [God] is due from angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, as creatures they owe unto the Creator (2.2). The second question of the Baptist Catechism says, “Ought everyone to believe there is a God?” The answer, “Everyone ought to believe their is a God and it is their great sin and folly who do not.” James, the brother of Jesus, made the same point. He taught the simple truth that man ought to acknowledge God in all his affairs when he told man, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15).
The Way of Man
Man has a way of simply going about his business without reference to God. He says things like, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such a such a town and spend a year there and trade to make a profit” (James 4:13)
Man pays no regard to God in his daily life. He certainly takes account of many things that he might get to a 24 hour day. He considers the laws that he must obey. He stops the traffic lights and abides by the policies and the company handbook. He takes account of the power he will need to get through the day. He ensures there is fuel for his car, a charger for his phone, and food for his stomach. He pays attention to his friends. He hugs his wife and family, waves to his neighbor, and speaks with his coworkers. But where is his acknowledgement of God? Where is his obedience to God’s law? Where is his dependence upon God power? Where is his enjoyment of God’s friendship?
‘ENDEAVOURING TO KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE.’ EPHESIANS 4:3
Beloved, religion is the great bond of human society, and it were well if itself were kept within the bond of unity; and that it may so be, let us, according to the text, use our utmost endeavours ‘to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
These words contain a counsel and a caution: the counsel is, ‘That we endeavour the unity of the Spirit’; the caution is, ‘That we do it in the bond of peace’: as if he should say, I would have you live in unity; but yet I would have you to be careful that you do not purchase unity with the breach of charity. Let us, therefore, be cautioned that we do not so press after unity in practice and opinion, as to break the bond of peace and affection.
In the handling of these words, I shall observe this method: First, I shall open the sense of the text. Second, I shall show wherein this unity and peace consists. Third, I shall show you the fruits and benefits of it, together with nine inconveniencies and mischiefs that attend those churches where unity and peace is wanting. Fourth, and lastly, I shall give you twelve directions and motives for the obtaining of it.
First, As touching the sense of the text; when we are counselled to keep the unity of the Spirit, we are not to understand the Spirit of God as personally so considered; because the Spirit of God, in that sense, is not capable of being divided; and so there would be no need for us to endeavour to keep the unity of it.
The story of Jephthah’s daughter is famous as an example of child sacrifice, yet certain clues in the biblical text imply she may have suffered a very different fate.
The Case against Jephthah
If Jephthah were to be arrested for the killing of his daughter, the prosecutor would have some evidence, though largely circumstantial. First there is his infamous and rash vow to God, that if God granted him victory over the Ammonites then the one who came out from the door of his house to greet him on his return would belong to the Lord and he would offer that person, or possibly animal, up as a burnt offering (Judges 11:30-31). Indeed Jephthah wins the victory, but the first to greet him with timbrels and dancing on his return is his daughter.
The final comment of the biblical text on the subject is the laconic statement that Jephthah fulfilled his vow, though the text gives no details of her death.
In his defense, Jephthah might point out that it was actually his daughter who insisted that he fulfill his vow to God (Judges 11:36) perhaps mitigating to some extent his responsibility. Her death might even be regarded as an act of martyrdom, not unlike Samson’s willingness to die for the sake of his God and his people.
Moving Beyond Summaries: The Narrator’s Point of View
The problem with this, or any other brief summary of the story, is that it leaves out so much of the material that the biblical narrator has considered important to present. Such details need to be taken seriously.
You may have heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating again: I’m deeply persuaded that many Christians, myself included, have a big gap in the middle of our gospel theology.
Let me break it down and then apply it in a fresh way:
I think we have a strong understanding of the theology of gospel past – meaning, we trust deeply in the historical sacrifice of Jesus which paid the penalty for our sins.
I also think that we have a strong understanding of the theology of gospel future – meaning, we trust eagerly in the eternal promise of heaven that’s coming.
But there’s something missing in the middle. We either don’t understand, or fail to embrace, the theology of the “now-ism” of the gospel. In other words, we don’t take full advantage of all the benefits of the work of Christ today.
In this post, I want to briefly outline 7 gospel promises that are offered to us right here, right now. It’s my hope that you would save this link or print off the post and come back to these promises regularly!
1. The Gospel Promises Forgiveness Today
Even though we believe in the sacrifice of Jesus, we don’t fully embrace his forgiveness today. Many of us carry around our sins in a metaphorical backpack of regret, bruising our spiritual shoulders and breaking the back of our faith.
Then YHVH said all these words: “I am YHVH, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery. “You are to have no other elohim before me. You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline. You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, YHVH, am a jealous Elohim, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my mitzvot.” (Exodus 20:1-5)
These introductory verses to the well-known passage containing the Ten Commandments declare some important truths. We are presented with the fact that it was YHVH who delivered His people from bondage in Egypt. Second, His people are commanded to have no other gods before Him, nor are they to create any representation of something in the created realm as a temptation to worship. After making those commands, YHVH declares He is a jealous God, punishing those who reject Him and demonstrating grace towards those who adhere to His mitzvoth (commands).
The fact that YHVH describes Himself as a jealous elohim is arguably a name of YHVH some may be tempted to gloss over when reading this passage. After all, isn’t jealousy considered a sin in passages such as Galatians 5:20 where the Apostle Paul notes jealousy as being a construct of the old sin nature? How then can a perfect Elohim describe Himself as being jealous? These are both valid questions and ones we will address.
First, let’s address the word jealous as used in Exodus 20:5. It is the Hebrew adjective qanna meaning quite simply “jealousy”. It is a term only used of YHVH and is used five times in Scripture, all in the Pentateuch. One fundamental element of this term is its relation to the holiness of YHVH. Since there is no element of imperfection with YHVH, the fact He is a jealous Elohim requires this description of who He is to operate completely outside the framework of our understanding of jealousy as it operates within a fallen world.
The typical fallen world demonstration of jealousy involves desiring something or someone that is not ours to be had. For instance, I could be jealous of my neighbor purchasing that brand new truck with this attitude of jealousy even rising to the level of covetousness. I want what I cannot have which could in turn negatively impact my relationship with my neighbor. When we approach YHVH being a jealous Elohim, we have to understand that since all things belong to YHVH, there is nothing that is not already His. This means His desire for something is not rooted in covetousness, but rather the element of ownership and more importantly, the desire for relationship. The Creator of the universe jealousy desires relationship with His creation. As noted by John Hartley, qanna “captures the intensity of the divine love that emanates from holiness.”
Second, it is vital to understand the context of Exodus 20:5 and how it relates to qanna. At Mt. Sinai, YHVH was not just providing a set of rules and regulations. That certainly took place; however, what was also taking place was the provision of the terms of a contract, specifically a marriage contract or better yet, a marriage covenant known as a Ketubah. YHVH’s people in Exodus 19:8 had affirmed they would abide by the terms of the covenant by declaring ““All that YHVH has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8) At this point, YHVH was betrothed to His people as the terms of the Ketubah has been read, understood, and agree upon by both parties.
The aspect of jealousy therefore as understood within the context of a loving marriage relationship brings this name of YHVH to a more personal level. We are to have no other elohim before us because to do so would break the terms of our marriage contact with YHVH. As Creator and our deliverer, the One who has extended His great mercy towards an underserving and sinful people, He deserves to be worshiped and loved with every fiber of our being. He deserves our full and undivided attention. He loves us with a perfect love. When we act in a manner unbecoming a betrothed bride, YHVH being completely holy and deserving of all that He has created, is jealous. He is not jealous for something He cannot have. As Creator, all is His. His jealousy stems from His aforementioned perfect love and in keeping with One who is abiding by the terms of the marriage contract. His jealousy towards us, both in outpouring discipline and judgment on those who break the terms of the contract and also by showing grace and mercy on those who abide by the terms of the contract, is rooted in the call for relationship.
YHVH is not some distant entity who created everything and then left His creation to its own devices, never to be involved in the affairs of man. YHVH is a relational Elohim. He loves us and demonstrated that love by sending Yeshua His only Son to be the sacrifice for our sin in order to provide the means for the restoration of relationship between Creator and humanity. He paid the bride price through the blood of His Son. He is a jealous Elohim because He loves us. He deserves your love and passion because He is jealous for you and passionately in love with you in keeping with His perfect holiness.
 Hartley, John. “Holy and Holiness, Clean and Unclean” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David Baker. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.
Jesus thinks reading is a big deal. After all, he wrote a book. And Jesus thinks reading his book is a big deal, because, well, he is. For a blog post on the sufficiency of Scripture and biblical scholarship this may seem overly simplistic. Aren’t scholars supposed to talk about really complicated things that impress others with their erudition and expansive vocabulary? While it is possible for most scholars to do such things, it is also true that erudition and expansive vocabularies ought to result in scholars helping people see the simplicity in matters marked by complexity. Believe it or not, it is likely safe to say that many scholarly debates turn on someone’s misreading of a particular text or a particular author. Given the cultural factors that hold in America today, as well as the sinful corruption of every human soul, there is a powerfully toxic blend of factors that undermine faithfully accurate reading in general, and of Scripture particularly, even by people who memorize the latter, write a lot about it, and have declared intentions in helping others understand it.
Reading has always been at the core of human scholarly pursuits. Indeed, the ancient and long-standing view of a scholar has been one who has the ability to read (not necessarily speak) in multiple languages and synthesize this reading accurately. On more than one occasion Jesus criticized the official and unofficial leaders of God’s people for being poor readers (Mt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31). Jesus was confronting them with their sin. The texts to which Jesus referred were certainly ones with which the leaders were very familiar. In one sense they had read them, but in another sense they had not. As it turns out, moral deficiencies corrupt intellectual analyses and conclusions that have practical results in every aspect of life. According to Jesus, their failure to rightly interpret the text meant they really had not read it.