Archive for August, 2008

To Know the Love of Christ: a Pauline Model for Sanctification

We are certainly aware of the different ways that Paul describes sanctification; we are to yield, to submit, to be filled, to crucify, to walk worthy, etc. Each of the previous infinitives describes the human-cooperative aspect of sanctification with some slightly different points of emphasis.

Although final sanctification is guaranteed to those who have believed (Romans 8:29), each Pauline model for its actualization carries with it the assumption that the one being sanctified must be an active participant, i.e. we must do something.

The most important exception to this norm, however, comes in one of Paul’s rich prayers for the Ephesians; he prays that based upon God’s inexhaustible resources that they would be strengthened and that Christ would dwell in their hearts, i.e. that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. In order for this to be accomplished, however, in this context the believers are not instructed to do anything. Rather, there is something that they need to know. By implication there is something that I need to know. Paul is praying for a spiritual miracle, that believers would be able to comprehend the immeasurable love of Christ Jesus toward them.

At first glance, Paul’s prayer is a typical spiral of subordinating clauses. Upon further examination, a logical chiasm is clear. Paul begins his prayer by drawing upon the riches of God’s glory (3:16). Interestingly, the prayer ends with a benediction that God would be glorified in his church and in his Christ (3:21). The outside layer of this logical chiasm, then, concerns itself with God’s glory.

His continues his request, that the Spirit would internally strengthen us, i.e. that we would experience God’s power in a practical way in our lives (3:16). Interestingly, at the close of the letter, this concept is directly mirrored. God is capable of doing more than we can comprehend because his power is at work in our lives (3:20). The next layer, then, concerns itself with God’s power.

We need to be strengthened, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (3:17). This concept is mirrored several verses later where Paul desires that we be filled with all the fullness of God (3:19). Since all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus, the two phrases are equivalent. This layer concerns itself with the fullness of God in the believer, i.e. the crux of sanctification.

Next we need strength to comprehend vast dimensions: breath, length, depth, and height (3:18). Several phrases later, Paul reveals that these dimensions are unknowable. Paul is asking for God to a miracle for the Ephesians; they need to know something that is not knowable. This next layer, then, concerns itself with knowing.

The logical chiasm would look like this:

(A) Glory
(B) Power
(C) Christ dwell in hearts
(D) Knowing
(D’) Unknowable
(C’) Filled with fulness of God
(B’) Power
(A’) Glory

The climax of the chiasm, then, is knowing the love of Christ. I need to know the love that God has for me, so that I can be filled with all the fulness of God, so I can be a partaker of the divine benefit, so God’s moral attributes will be made manifest in my transforming character.

I challenge you: this week make a list detailing how you know that God loves you.



Vintage Jesus, Desiring God, and Language

The following video is a clip for the upcoming Desiring God National Conference for which John Piper has invited Mark Driscoll to speak on the topic of harsh language. 

Two initial thoughts:

1. I don’t know about you, but I’m already pretty good at using harsh language. I hope that as I grow further in Christ, I will learn to control my tongue, that I will avoid course language, that I will allow my speech to be alway with grace, and that I will be an example to the believers in this area.  

2. It could be argued that Jesus used somewhat illusive language at times as well. So, should Desiring God invite Bill Clinton to teach that particular art?

My objections aside, I agreed with much of what Driscoll said in the video. At times the authors of Scripture, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, use very harsh, strong, potent, and seemingly unkind language. For instance, the Galatians 5 passage Driscoll references goes something like this: 

 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. 

The word αποκοψονται means “to cut off” and in this case (dealing with Judaizers) conveys quite clearly the idea of castration.

That aside, Driscoll’s main point is that if Scripture is God-breathed (and it is, c.f. 2 Timothy 3), and if it is graphic at times for emphasis, then there is really no problem with our using graphic language at times as well. He notes strongly, however, that this language was usually reserved for religious hypocrites. Keep that in mind.

My problem with Driscoll and this whole issue of language is that anyone could easily agree in principle with most of the content of the video above; however, Driscoll’s use of “strong” language seems to be targeted not at religious hypocrites but at the unsaved or unchurched (the type of people he is trying to attract and not the type of people he is trying to rebuke) who may think him cool for saying the things he does. For instance, in his book Vintage Jesus he writes: 

Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of Hot Pockets with their uncle-daddy. Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted a crazy story to cover the “fact” she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom. Jesus was adopted by a simple carpenter named Joseph and spent the first thirty years of his life in obscurity, swinging a hammer with his dad. 

I was pretty sure I knew what Driscoll meant by his term: knocking boots. Perhaps this language is intended for religious hypocrites? Hmm, probably not. I didn’t think this could be a good reference, but honestly I wasn’t sure what it meant; my wife and I googled the term and wondered if we should even click on the links that came up. It’s of the basest slang possible, meaning sexual intercourse.

Here are my problems with his usage of language:

1. He doesn’t keep his own rules (using primarily for religious hypocrites, as often as God does, etc). His usage seems to be all about his persona, being a man’s man. His strategy is simple: shock the churched and try to attract the unchurched.

2. When God uses strong language in the Scripture, He uses irony, sarcasm, and pointedness, etc. While often adapting to the culture around him, Jesus never adopted the corrupted aspects of his culture. Driscoll uses elements of our culture that are base and unbecoming of a Christian.

Ephesians 5:3-4 is clear on this particular point.

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather givng of thanks.

Fornication is not befitting of saints; in the same sense, neither is filthiness (shamefulnes), foolish talk or jesting (vulgar talk, crude or course joking).

There are some very funny parts in the book; his interaction with Emergent Village folks is even hillarious. However, I could never recommend the book because other parts are written in such poor taste. As Challies points out in his review, “Driscoll is perfectly capable of being humorous without being dirty.”

And, I still don’t see why Piper would invite him to address this topic at a conference, perhaps because he too has a large C painted on his chest?


Book Review: A Gospel Primer for Christians by Milton Vincent

For my most recent birthday my sister sent me a copy of A Gospel Primer for Christians. You could purchase the book on Amazon for only a couple dollars (click here), or you can purchase it directly from the author’s church (click here). Unfortunately, the free pdf download is no longer available. 

The major premise of the book is that Christians still need to hear the gospel even after conversion. Paul told the church at Rome that was ready to preach them the gospel (1:15). Vincent (admittedly borrowing from Bridges) contends that we should preach the gospel to ourselves every day — this means we should methodically internalize the gospel, rehearsing it over and over, meditating upon its truths daily. 

Part 1 gives about 30 reasons we need to hear the gospel every day. One of the most intense and deeply convicting sections is found on page 34: 

The Cross also exposes me before the eyes of other people, informing them of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide. Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up to others about ongoing issues of sin in my life. (Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them that I am a desperately sinful person?) And the more open I am in confessing my sins to fellow-Christians, the more I enjoy the healing of the Lord in response to their grace-filled counsel and prayers. 

Part 2 is the gospel in prose, part 3 in poem. The final section is the author’s personal testimony. 

In an age when popular authors are harmfully thought provoking (trying to convince people to reconsider foundational gospel truths), Milton Vincent calls us back to what should be our perpetual focus — the incomprehensible love of God in Christ Jesus which, toward alienated sinners, was powerfully demonstrated on the cross. 

I can’t recommend this book more strongly. Not yet convinced you should buy it?  

Check out these reviews: 

My Two Cents

Heart of Ezra

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