Posts Tagged ‘cross’
Most of us like to think that we are good people. After all, there are so many other people who are much worse than us. We think we know what is right. We often want to do what is right, but it is hard to do the right thing. Why do we do things that we know are wrong? And why do we feel bad inside when we do things that we know are wrong? How do we measure goodness? And how good is good enough?
The Lord God, who made you and takes care of you, has told us what is right and wrong. One day we will all have to face Him. He will judge everything that we have done, everything that we have said, and even everything that we have thought. Jesus said, “Be ready, for the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 44). How can you be ready? Will you be good enough?
Take a moment to read God’s Ten Commandments:
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
5. Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.
How do you compare to this standard? You might think you can make fun of the standard: “I’ve never coveted anybody’s ox or donkey!” You might think it easy to point to the things that you haven’t done: “I’ve never murdered anyone”. But Jesus taught that the Ten Commandments go much deeper than we imagine. They are as much about our thoughts, our hearts, our attitudes, as they are about what we physically do (if you have a Bible, you can find this in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 17-30). Jesus said, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5.22) and “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5.28).
No wonder the Bible teaches that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (the letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 10). We have all broken the Ten Commandments: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). Is any one of us good enough for God? No!
But that is not the end of the story. Why did God write these Ten Commandments if none of us can keep them? The Bible answers this question. God says that the Ten Commandments – God’s holy law – is our “tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (the letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 24).
How does Jesus Christ fit in, and what does it mean to be justified by faith?
Jesus fits in because “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians, chapter 4, verse 4). Jesus Christ, being both God and man, obeyed the law of God perfectly. He lived according to the law, and is the only man who never broke one of God’s Ten Commandments in his thoughts, words, or deeds. Read the accounts of His life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and you cannot find one instance when He sinned: He was never less than perfect in all that He thought, said and did. But what does that have to do with us?
The Bible teaches that we all have a sinful nature. After all, nobody needs to be taught how to do wrong things – it is the way we are, and we act in accordance with it. But the Bible promises that “through one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5.19). That verse is talking about Jesus, and means that somehow sinners like us can benefit from the perfect and sinless life that Jesus lived.
If we are to face God in judgment and not be damned for our sins – condemned for all the things that break God’s law – then we need the holiness and perfection of Jesus. This is what it means to be justified: for God to declare us to be right in his sight. For that we need a perfect righteousness. How do we get this righteousness? Through faith in Jesus Christ, his righteousness is put to our account. Then, “justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5.1). Peace with God! If your conscience tells you that you have done things wrong, and must one day face God, what would you not give to know peace with God?
Don’t try and have peace with God by trying to be better, by trying to keep God’s Ten Commandments better. We cannot keep God’s law: “No one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3.11). That sends us to Jesus Christ for the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” God’s answer is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” This salvation is “by grace . . . through faith” (Ephesians 2.8). “By grace”: it is the gift of God, and not something that we can earn or deserve. “Through faith”: repenting of our sins, and trusting completely and only in Jesus Christ. He lived the life that we should have lived, but could not. He died the death that we deserved, being punished by God for the sins of His people.
Examine your life, examine your heart. Consider the standard of God’s Ten Commandments, and compare yourself to it. Listen to your conscience. Then repent of your sin, and ask God to save you through Jesus Christ.
My friend Alan Dunn gives a moving framework for spanking evangelism. Parents would do well to read this to correct the cruel excesses both of empty sentiment and of angry thoughtlessness.
Death By Love: Letters from the Cross by Mark Driscoll
Crossway, 2008 (257pp, hbk)
Death By Love (see the website) puts the reality of substitutionary atonement front and centre. Its opening salvo is aimed at some of the false and foolish notions of Christ’s death that have gained currency in recent years. Christ is shown, from the Scriptures of God, to have died in accordance with his Father’s will and design, voluntarily offering himself up as a sacrifice in the place of sinners. God’s justice and mercy are repeatedly shown to kiss in this book, and both are exalted in the process.
Having laid this solid foundation, Mark Driscoll – the primary author of the bulk of each chapter – then goes on to apply Christ’s crosswork to a variety of pastoral case-studies. In twelve separate chapters, the author writes what is in effect a pastoral letter to each of twelve people. Each chapter follows the same pattern: in a page or two, the situation itself is briefly outlined and explained. The twelve recipients of the letters are extremely varied, and tend toward more extreme circumstances: one wonders whether such portraits tend toward the sensational, which might serve on the one hand to highlight the nature of the issues or, on the other, to cloud the principles being applied in the often uncomfortable detail of the problem.
Katie is a haunted Christian struggling to escape memories of sexual sins in her past and needing to face up to the realities of spiritual warfare and the victory of Christ over Satan and his minions; the theme here is Christus victor. Thomas is a slave to lust, and occasionally confesses his sin to pastors as a release of pressure on his conscience – he needs to see the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Luke is humiliated and out for blood after he found out from his profoundly-repentant wife that – just before they were both converted – she had slept with his best friend; he needs to see Jesus as his new covenant sacrifice. David is a control freak whose Christianity seems to consist in his obedience to a multitude of self-imposed rules – whether or not he is truly converted is difficult to discern, but he needs to grasp that Jesus is his gift righteousness. John molested a child and is being crushed under the weight of his awful guilt: unless he sees Jesus as his justification he will die without hope. Bill’s father beat him but has recently been converted, while Bill finds his father’s anger in his own heart even if he does not use his father’s outward violence, and is struggling to resolve all these tensions, which resolution he will find in Jesus his propitiation. Before she was converted Mary was raped repeatedly by an abusive boyfriend and it has marred all her subsequent relationships, including her present marriage to a Christian man: feeling herself to be damaged goods, she needs to grasp that Christ is her expiation. Gideon is Mark Driscoll’s son, and his daddy wants him to understand – as he grows up surrounded by Christians and God’s truth – that Jesus is his “unlimited limited atonement.” Hank is a foul old man with a history of gross sin and no understanding of grace who is slowly brought to understand that he deserves God’s condemnation in hell, and will drink every drop of the cup of God’s wrath unless he embraces Jesus as his ransom. Caleb was casually ungodly until he fell for a Christian woman – pursuing her, he found God pursuing him, and was converted and eventually married her, knowing that she was suffering from a brain tumour that may keep her from having children and living long: Caleb, a vibrant saint, needs Christus exemplar in order to go on loving and serving his wife through these challenges. Kurt is a vocal non-Christian whose life is a mess and who hates his converted brother: Kurt cannot be reconciled to his brother until Jesus is his reconciliation with God. Susan is a philosophically-minded young woman who wants to know God and what he is like, and will not do so until she comes to see Christ crucified as the revelation of God.
As is plain from the overview above, some of those to whom Driscoll writes are Christians struggling with some painful experience or difficult prospects. Others are unbelievers who must come face to face with painful reality in order that they might know Christ accurately. All need a deeper, more accurate, Spirit-wrought perspective on who he is and what he has done. Turning the multi-faceted gem of the atoning Christ before us, different aspects of the work of Christ as crucified are brought to bear in each instance. At the end of each chapter, Gerry Breshears – Mark’s theological fullback – answers some more technical questions about the doctrine expressed in the body of the chapter.
There is little doubt that this is the most pastoral of Mark Driscoll’s books to date and the least humorous. That does not mean that it is mushy or dry (although those who read Driscoll because he is funny might find this book a little fusty). He is at once tender with those agonizing under a genuine sense of guilt and shame or facing a challenge that will overwhelm them apart from Christ, and honest – to the point of painful directness – with regard to sin and sins that are being evaded or ignored. One individual is called to recognize that “You are a despicable human being.” Another is informed, “Throughout your life you have sinned against God, and you owe him as well. As it stands right now, you are on your way to hell, which is the eternal prison for spiritual debtors like you who have ripped God off by living sinful lives. There is not any way that a good, holy and just God could possibly endorse or even overlook your pathetic life” (110, 187). Some may resent this language, or the idea of treating someone in this way, but surely unless sinners come to see themselves as despicable men they will not turn to a holy Savior? There is, perhaps, a constitutional inclination to such robustness in Driscoll, but it is an inclination that many preachers today would do well to embrace in degree: it could be that one reason why there is so little true conviction of sin among those to whom we preach is because we do not preach sin in all its fearful realities, and – in dependence on the Spirit of God – set out to bring men to the point where they break in the face of their awful condition. Others might phrase it differently, but we need to communicate the same basic message.
Certain themes and topics recur throughout the book. If read in one sitting, this might feel a little repetitive, but the structure and genre demand that certain notes be sounded again and again, albeit to different people. However, imagining that many reading this book might turn first (only?) to the chapter that most mirrors their own experience, this becomes a literary and pastoral necessity. Not everyone is going to take time to dig out the distinction between expiation and propitiation from the introduction, for example, and so it needs to be repeated and particularly applied to individual cases.
There are also some high points of powerful, persuasive and engaging writing in the book: the author paints different word portraits of Jesus and they are often beautiful, being accurately sketched and deeply felt and earnestly presented. There is more than a little sanctified imagination at points, though it does not often cause any problems, but rather serves the function of the book.
In principle, then, this is a good model of Christ-centred, cross-shaped pastoring, as Driscoll presses the cross into each situation. As the apostle Paul does in writing his letters to various churches, so Driscoll attempts to do in writing to various individuals. How does Christ and him crucified resolve the crisis? Pastors would do well to acknowledge the legitimacy and priority of such an approach, even if they would not dispense the Driscoll pill in the same way.
One element that can become a little grating is how often Mark tries to show his reader how his life mirrored theirs at a certain point. While he often points to his heart rather than his experience, this is still a dangerous game: it can sometimes give the impression of trying to be an Everyman, which a pastor does not need to be. Though it may be an effort to show a Christlike sympathy, it does not always work. Furthermore, some will resent anything that appears to suggest that “I have suffered as you have suffered” (although Christ can truly say that he has suffered beyond what any man has suffered).
Another difficulty lies in some of the theological formulations. In a book of this sort it is not possible to defend every nuance and phrase of one’s theology, and Driscoll’s confident directness does not always lend itself to this anyway. I do not, therefore, intend to nitpick about certain phrases and ideas, except to recognise that I would not necessarily embrace every element of every diagnosis, nor every nuance of prescription. It may be that Mark’s emergent roots have left him as something of a theological jackdaw, nicking bits and pieces of shiny theology from various traditions. That might not be fair, but there is one major issue that ought to be identified. Writing to his own son, Mark sets out Jesus “unlimited limited atonement.” He explicitly denies the heresies of “Christian universalism” and “contemporary Pelagianism” before discussing the following three options: unlimited atonement, limited atonement, and unlimited limited atonement. The latter is posited as the balancing resolution of the two former, and Driscoll emerges as a hypothetical universalist, or Amyraldian. As one who is often identified (by others?) as SoRe (i.e. soteriologically reformed) this causes problems. Although Amyrald[ian]ism may be – wittingly or not – the soteriology de jour among many of the young, restless, and allegedly reformed, it is not itself a genuinely reformed stance. It is disappointing that – in putting this forward – Mark Driscoll actually undermines the fullness of Christ’s saving work in the very book in which he is trying to exalt him.
There is much to learn from this book, both in principle and in practice, and I think it shows Mark at his best in many respects. In appreciating and profiting from this book, then, let us read it with wisdom and discernment, and guided by Scripture in the ongoing application of the crucified Lord of Glory to the spiritual needs of men and women of every stripe and in every circumstance.