A Pilgrim People in a Paradoxical World

We Christians are strangers and aliens in an unfamiliar world, citizens of the New Jerusalem which is above but has not yet appeared in its full glory. In the past three posts, I’ve explored the doctrine of how God keeps and preserves the world thanks to His providence and common grace. Now, I need to put all of this in full perspective.

It is true that the world is still an amazing place, full of wonder – but it is also terribly broken and full of death and suffering and injustice.

It is true that there is incredible beauty, but there is also unimaginable filth and perversion.

It is true that there are many nice and well-behaved people, but there are also scandalous, selfish, and wicked people.

It is true that there are many diverse activities and interests to pursue, but no matter how much fun we have, we still feel empty and unfulfilled inside.

The sad truth is, God created a wonderful world, but we sinned and cursed this world, so that we have a paradoxical mix of the beautiful and the profane. The book of Ecclesiastes well expresses the malaise that results from contemplating this paradox: what good is life if everything is irrecoverably tainted with evil? How shall we live in a world where we long for good, see tantalizing glimpses of it, and yet know that something is seriously wrong with everything, and that our own persons are horribly tainted and defiled with sin?

The Bible even says worse stuff for sinners: that we are so totally depraved by nature that we do not even want to be in fellowship with God. We see the good things He has made and enjoy them, but we refuse to honor Him. We suppress the natural order which He has revealed to us and established within creation – either by turning away from it in bold wickedness, or by twisting it to serve our own ends: a shadow of good, yes, but still wicked in that we use this order to exalt ourselves rather than our Creator. This is the sum of total depravity: not that we always do bad things, but that even the “good” things we do do not please God because we do not do them to glorify Him. This is the predicament of humanity in a paradoxical world.

We Christians have been freed from this deplorable situation through the sacrifice and perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, so that we no longer need to fear the imperfection of their good works, for we do them through Christ. Yet (as Romans 7 shows), we are still struggling with the remnants of the sinful old nature within us and are continually beset by temptations on all sides. We grow more and more sensitive to the evil that still lurks around us, and to the utter depravity of the world. Awe at the amazing creations of man is mixed with a profound awareness of the wickedness that flourishes in this world. We grow impatient at sin and evil, and long for perfect good to be established upon earth. Some professing Christians have even denied that there is any real “good” in this world, since perfection has not come. I submit that this is a mistaken view. Yes, good and evil are mixed together and cannot be fully separated, but God in His common grace has kept good in this world both as a testimony to His love and benevolence and as a foretaste of the perfection that is to come.

We must have a proper balance. We ought not to see the good that exists today as all there is, for it can sometimes be so wonderful as to fix our attention upon this present world, when it in reality exists as an anticipation of better things to come. We ought not to plunge into ascetic self-denial, as so many have done, nor to become indulgent epicureans, but enjoy the gifts of God within proper boundaries and patiently endure evil and suffering, knowing that better things are yet to come. This Age is now, and yet the Age to come is breaking in; we see through a glass dimly, yet one day full perfection will arrive. We are already citizens of the heavenly city, but it has not yet arrived in its shining glory. We endure paradox, knowing that one day there will be no more paradox forever and ever. The Age to come will be the Age that is now, all because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Praise be to God!

The Role of General Revelation

The Role of General Revelation

General revelation is what God reveals about Himself through nature and through the human conscience. In all creation, there is abundant evidence that a God made and designed everything. From the amazing beauty and complexity of plants and animals to the towering heights of mountains to the myriad vastness of the heavens, creation testifies and declares the glory of God (Psalm 19).

Furthermore, God has placed the knowledge of Himself inside the human heart. As they look at creation, people instinctively know that there is something bigger than them out there; they are aware of the general principles of God’s Law such as the wrongness of murder and the rightness of telling the truth (Romans 1:19-20).

Yet general revelation is in itself insufficient to instruct the person about God and even about how to live rightly. Why? Because sin has come into the world and drawn a heavy veil over the eyes of humans, so that they no longer can rightly perceive truth or fully follow it. At best, thanks to God’s restraining common grace, they can incompletely understand certain aspects of creation or even delight in the beautiful things that God has placed in this world. However, they do not delight in the Creator who made these things, but rather twist them to their own selfish ends.

For example, a very common view among people who are outdoors a lot is that being in the beautiful wild country (like that around Missoula) is in itself a religious experience, sufficient to create peace and contentment in their hearts. “This is my church!” exclaimed a friend of mine on a recent hike, waving his hands towards the majestic Bitterroot Mountains. The renowned naturalist John Muir also expressed similar sentiments about Yosemite Valley (back in the days before it became commercialized), calling it a “cathedral not made with human hands.”

But there is something sorely lacking here in general revelation, even if we discount the blindness of the sinful human heart. At best, general revelation can only show how magnificent and powerful God is; it does not tell us anything about God’s plan of salvation or how to have fellowship with Him. The human heart, being sinful, then makes up subjective ideas about how to “get in tune” with “spirituality.” It sees something wonderful, yet is unable to properly interpret it.

This is where special revelation comes in, which God gave to His people through prophets and apostles and is now written down in the Bible. Special revelation clarifies and encapsulates general revelation within its proper context. It shows mankind how to properly relate to God; that men need to trust in Jesus Christ to be saved from their terrible sin which so distorts their understanding and perception of all the glorious and beautiful things around them. Both types of revelation fit together as hand in glove.

General revelation, thus, is intended to show all humanity the splendor, majesty, and justice of God. It is not meant to be embraced apart from special revelation, but joins together with it to show humans how amazing their Creator is. By itself, it is sufficient to convict people of the fact that there is a God and that He has standards which they cannot measure up to. In other words, it is entirely law and contains no gospel. General revelation is an amazing and good law, but people who depend only on it cannot be saved from their sins. Rather, the gospel which special revelation brings enables one to fully appreciate general revelation for what it is – a witness of the glory of God which He lavishly showers across the whole universe, enjoyed and revered by His redeemed people.

For more reading see Belgic Confession, Article 2, and the first six chapters of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The Choice

The Second Commandment offers a choice between freedom or slavery.  Your choice: either serve the gods of this world or be served by the one true God.  You have a choice to serve or be served.  That is it, choose either the law or the gospel.  

This coming Sunday at 5:00pm come here an exposition on the Second Commandment. Visit missoulaurc.com for more info. 

 

Book Review: Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings

 

Westminster Seminary California has just published another one of my book reviews:

Martin Luther is perhaps the most popular figure of theological study, outside secondary literature on the life of Jesus Christ. As the foundational character of Protestantism, to control Luther is to control the reformation. For this reason, some historians have done their best to create a Luther after their own theological image. Today it seems the Luther of faith governs the Luther of history seen with the Luther Renaissance and the Finnish School of interpretation. The former made Luther the German idealist and the later the product of Eastern Orthodoxy. Both camps removed Luther from his actual writings and the 17th century confessional scholastics, who carried on his reform.

Modern schools of interpretation fail to understand that Luther’s theology developed over time. He was an “occasional theologian.” He did not write a single summary of theology but wrote as he had “concrete struggles for the gospel in the context of the sixteenth century church and society.” No single tower experience caused Luther to pen, “If the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost”—such conclusions came after years of study. Reading Luther’s early works may impress a medieval mold. Further reading, however, produces the Protestant Luther. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 2nd Edition was “prepared with the special hope that it might be useful in making the writings of Martin Luther available as a resource for contemporary work in theology,” and in so doing will allow the real Luther to stand up. This book comes highly recommended for those who want to know the man and not the myth…continue.

Know Justification?

John Calvin once sermonized,

If, as we would have others believe, we are indeed Christians, we ought to be very familiar with what it means to be justified by faith.  Yet, how few of those who claim to love the gospel understand the justification spoken of so frequently in the Scriptures! This being the case, it is very important that we ourselves should know this doctrine, for without it we can have no assurance of salvation.

You should know justification well after hearing our sermon series on Galatians.  Want to hear then click here.

Sunday Ticket and Christ’s Church

Does Sabbath rest include ceasing from various leisurely activities?  Our confessions do not prohibit modest leisure or recreation.  Modest leisure may be appropriate as long as it does not remove or hinder fellowship, worship, and avoids worldly commerce.  Christians should remain separate from worldly pursuits—remember the Lord sanctified the day.[1]  The more commerce done on the Lord’s Day, the more Christians have to work on Sunday.  The Sabbath consists in performing holy works.  In order to do or receive them, we must avoid things that hinder or omit worship.  In this hyper-stimulated culture, we face many obstacles to sanctifying the Sabbath.  Sunday is the second busiest shopping day in America—ask anyone in the restaurant business and he will tell you that Christians pack the house on Sunday.[2]  One cannot do his religious duty at the mall or in front of a big screen, much less, dare I say, at a NFL game.  Will the NFL game conflict with your religions duty, acts of necessity, and mercy?  That is for you to decide, but if the church officers have called two worship services on Sunday, I don’t know how you will get around your commitment to Christ and his Church if the Dallas Cowboys are playing next year in January?  Better to be more committed to Christ’s church than to America’s Team.

If you need a place to worship this Lord’s Day, our service begins at 10:30am and I have NFL rewind so you can watch the game with me on Monday.


[1] Think of the day like your tithe, all your money belongs to the Lord, but a certain amount is specially given to the church for the Lord.  Every day belongs to the Lord and you serve him daily, however, Sunday is a special day because the Lord set it apart for a special purpose.

[2]Most restaurants classify them as the most difficult patrons and poorest tippers.  The worst of the bunch slip tacky tracks with less than 15% in place of a good tip.  Non-Christians with tenure, therefore, often refuse to work on Sunday resulting in Christians to fill the gap, see Clark, Recovering, 324.