» faith

How can God expect me to have faith?

Posted on by Glen in evangelism, faith, gospel | Leave a comment

 

cs-lewis-quotes-inspirational-9This week I’m at the University of East Anglia to help the Christian Union with these events. Last night I spoke on the topic “What do Christians actually believe?” Afterwards there was a great question about faith which I answered so badly I thought I’d have another go on the blog. Here’s what I wish I’d said…

How can God expect us to have faith? It seems so uncertain.

We all live by faith. Whether we are Muslims, Christians, atheists, agnostics, we all live by faith. I mean this in at least two ways.

First of all, we all must trust the testimony of others. Only a small fraction of my knowledge has been attained through direct observation, scientific experimentation or mathematical proof. For the rest, I’ve been told it. Teachers have told me, books have told me, journalists have told me, my parents have told me. I can have all sorts of rigorous standards which I expect these sources to adhere to. But I simply cannot personally fact-check everything I’m told. I have to take it on faith.

I once made this point in a conversation and the other guy said “No, you can check your knowledge scientifically and if you don’t, it’s not certain knowledge.” I said “I can’t scientifically assess the truth claims of my wife.” He said “Yes you can.” I said “No I can’t. If I seek to falsify each of my wife’s statements (falsification being at the heart of the scientific method) I wouldn’t have a wife to assess!!” The scientific method is great for some truth claims but by no means all!

Nonetheless there are things that I know apart from such investigations (i.e. that my wife loves me, that she is trustworthy, that she has always been called “Emma”, that she is beautiful, that she is “right” for me, that she exists, that this world exists, etc, etc!)

So that’s the first point. So much of our knowledge comes to us in ways other than direct observation / scientific experimentation / mathematical proof. We live most of our lives by the testimony of others. In other words we live by faith.

There’s a second sense in which we live by faith. We all have a view of the world that depends on larger commitments to truth, beauty, goodness, etc. You might object and say “I don’t have any larger commitments. I am completely neutral as I build my view of the world from the ground up.” But then I’ll ask you, “Why do you do it that way?” At that point you’ll have to justify that particular method of interpretation and this will reveal a worldview that precedes and shapes your approach to the world. It’s inescapable. None of us can say “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.” Even that turns out to be a kind of worldview. Everyone has commitments of the heart and mind that go deeper than the facts.

Here is the Christian worldview in a 5 minute animation:

Here we find a God who is before, behind and beyond this world. There is a Father loving His Son in the joy of the Spirit (find out more here). This personal, good, truthful, beautiful, loving God is the ground of all being. From this God comes everything else and we are intended to participate in the life of this personal, truthful, beautiful, loving God.

Jesus came as the expression of God lived out in our humanity. He took on Himself the consequences of our vicious, wicked, lying, ugly, hatefulness and then rose up from the dead to offer us His kind of life. Connection to Him puts us in touch with what is most deeply true about reality: that there is Goodness, Truth and Beauty bound together in love. In other words, Jesus reconciles us to God.

This is the framework from which Christians view the world. And I’d like to suggest that it makes sense of reality in a way that no other view does. Here we have a very high regard for truth. We will want to assess the world rationally and rigourously. But we also see that there is a personal, an ethical and an aesthetic dimension to truth that must be explored too. Beneath and beyond the axioms of mathematics and the findings of science, there is love. Here in the Christian view is a grounding for our dearest intuitions – that personal relationships are what’s most important.

We all live as though love is the greatest reality. Only the Christian can ground that intuition in something deeper than wishful thinking. The atheist does not have love as the ultimate reality. The theist-in-general does not have a God who is essentially love (since a single-person God cannot be love). It is Christianity that actually gives to the world a pair of spectacles that brings the world into proper focus.

Christian faith is about adopting these spectacles (rather than any other).

If the question is “Why does God expect us to have faith?”, the answer is: Everyone has faith. What God wants is for us to have the sort of faith that actually fits us, fits the world, fits ultimate reality. He says “See the world like this. Doesn’t that make sense of you, me and everything else?”

C.S. Lewis said this: “‘I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else.”’

This is another way (a much clearer and more succinct way!) of saying the same thing. You can get to grips with the sun in two ways. You can look at it (carefully!) but you can also look at everything else in its light. Both kinds of looking establish the reality of the sun.

The same is true of Jesus (who, incidentally, claimed to be the Light of the world, John 8:12). We can look at Jesus to see this God of love walk the earth. Here is something we can investigate and I urge you to do just that. Pick up one of the four biographies we have of His life, read, pray, chat it through with others. This is what it means to “look at the sun.” At the same time we can look around at a world which Jesus illuminates. You can say to yourself “Could it be true that the Jesus-God is the deepest reality in this world? Could it be true that His kind of truth, beauty, goodness and love are what’s ultimate in the world?”

When you put the two together you have a “Sun” that accounts for the sparkle. You have an Explanation for the light that we prize in this world.

As I look back at my conversion I see these two things going on. On the one hand I was reading the Gospels and in them encountering the unmistakable Light of Jesus. It got to the point where I could no more deny that He was Lord than that I could deny that the sun was bright. There is something self-authenticating about the Light of the world – He recommends Himself just by the force of His own compelling personality. At the same time though, I was listening to the Blues Brothers on repeat: Everybody needs somebody to love. It was striking me forcefully that love was the deepest reality in the universe. And all of a sudden these two things came together: I saw a sparkle in the world and I had found a Sun to explain it. There’s a word to describe this kind of eureka moment: faith!

Why does God expect us to have faith? Everyone has faith. But which faith actually fits? I’d urge you to pick up the Gospels, shoot up a prayer and say “God, if you’re there, shine!” See if the Jesus you meet there doesn’t make sense of everything. It’s worth a shot, don’t you think?

 

Thingamy-Jiggery-Pokery

Posted on by Glen in faith, grace, pastoral theology, prayer, preaching | 18 Comments

the-thing-movie-poster

We’re always making a thing out of things that aren’t things. There’s a technical term for this but I’m just going to call it thingification. The name’s not important. What is important is that it’s ruining your Christian life. Let me show you how with reference to 6 things that are commonly thingified.

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Grace is not a thing.

“Grace, Grace, Grace” we sing. And I think “She sounds awesome, I wish I could meet her.” But I can’t meet her because there’s no such person. There’s only Jesus who is given to me by the Father apart from any desert of my own. That’s grace. But grace is not a thing. Grace is the gift of a Person and if I want to know more grace I need to train my eyes on Jesus. Then I’ll see how freely He’s given. At that point I have an experience of grace, but my experience won’t be of a thing but of a Him. (For more see here).

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Faith is not a thing.

“We’ve got to have more faith” we cry. And so we check the little perspex window on our heart to see if the faith pilot-light is flickering strong. Oops, looks like it’s going out. Quick, turn the faith tap to maximum. But  how? What is faith? Again, it’s not a thing. Faith is to recognise and receive Jesus (John 1:12-13). He has been graciously given, therefore we trustingly receive Him. But faith is not something we dredge up out of our inner spiritual life. If you want “more faith”, don’t look for faith – look to Jesus. That’s how faith comes. (For more see here).

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Prayer is not a thing.

“I need to work on my prayer life” we say. And we mean it. But so often what we mean is “I need to improve at this spiritual discipline because my lack of proficiency reflects badly on my stature as a Christian.” Or maybe we want to improve because we want to “improve our relationship with God.” In some ways this motivation is even worse because it pictures “my prayer life” as the thing that connects me to God, rather than Christ. Then it becomes very important to focus on “my prayer life” but as something quite separate from focusing on Christ our Mediator. So we force ourselves to go to the prayer meeting and hear someone pray: “Please may God bless this work…” And we think, “Huh? I thought we were praying to God? Are we? Or are we performing a thing called prayer in front of one another?” Perhaps the pray-er does manage to address God but then mixes up the Persons. At that point you have to ask: Has prayer become a thing that we do. Should it not be an enjoyment of our adoption before the Father through union with the Son in the joy of the Spirit? But so often, don’t we find that prayer becomes a thing we must get right. And a thing that stands between ourselves and communion with God? (For more see here).

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Bible Reading is not a thing.

“I must read my Bible” we vow, “every day, come rain, hail or shine.” Well alright but why? Another spiritual discipline to master? A duty to tick off the list? If we manage it, is there not a sense of “Phew, job done!” But what if “Bible Reading” isn’t a thing in the Christian life. What if Bible Reading is simply how the Father speaks His word to us in Christ and by the Spirit. What if Bible Reading is not a thing we need to get right but a word in our ear from our gracious God? (For more see here).

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The Sermon is not a thing.

“What did you make of The Sermon” we ask each other after the service. Suddenly The Sermon is a thing – a thing in between the preacher and the congregation. It’s a production that we then pass comment on. And from the preacher’s point of view the same thingification can happen: “we prepare and deliver a sermon” rather than “herald God’s word to a congregation.” Unfortunately this thing arises in between preacher and people – a thing that will be dissected and focused upon by both sides. But really there is no such thing. There’s only God’s word coming down through the preacher’s lips. There’s only a congregation hearing the voice of the living Christ. The Sermon is an artifice. It is not a proper object of our attention – only the Christ which it proclaims. (For more see here).

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Discipleship is not a thing. (Updated)

“The church has woefully neglected discipleship” they lament. We all give a hearty ‘Amen’ then we look in our Bibles for the word “discipleship” and, shock horror, it’s not there. The word “disciple” is certainly there, but discipleship? No, the Bible is not interested in disciple-craft. Jesus does not want us to be good at the art of following Him. He just wants us to follow Him. Yet, might it be that discipleship is one more concept that takes us away from Jesus Himself and makes us dwell on a thing in abstraction from Christ? It’s worth considering. (For more see here).

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What do you think? And are there other aspects of the Christian life we thingify?

Ten Thoughts On Salvation

Posted on by Glen in faith, gospel, grace, salvation | 5 Comments

salvation1) We are saved by God. (Jonah 2:9)

God does it all. He does not simply ‘blaze a trail’ or ‘clear a path’ or ‘make it possible’ to be saved. He saves. It’s His work entirely.

2) We are saved from God. (Romans 3:25)

Our problem is not merely our disobedience, our problem is God’s anger at our disobedience. We’re not just saved from sin but from wrath. If our problem was “our sin” then “our righteousness” would be the (implied) solution. But no, the problem is out of our hands – just as the solution is.

3) We are saved for God. (Ephesians 2:18) 

Who cares if we simply receive a “not guilty verdict”? The good news is not that we escape hell. It’s that we are reconciled to the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit.

4) Salvation is about our being. (2 Peter 1:4)

Our problem is not simply our behaviour but our being in Adam. God’s solution is not simply “a clean slate” but a whole new nature in Christ. Atonement is not simply about scapegoats and blood sacrifices (though they are crucial). It’s about our High Priest carrying His people into God’s presence.

5) Jesus is God’s salvation and perfectly reveals His saving will. (John 3:14-17)

Jesus means “The LORD is salvation.” If we want to know God’s will for salvation there is nowhere else to look. God is the God of Jesus – the God of the gospel.

6) God’s love for Christ is primary. (John 3:35-36)

It’s easy to get lost in debates about “God’s love for the church” versus “God’s love for the world.” We might ask ourselves whether / how these loves might differ from each other. But we ought to begin further upstream. God loves His Son and He gives His Son to the world. Where Christ is received, that is the church. But the point is not so much about the church or the world (or the church versus the world). It’s about Jesus.

7) Every blessing is in Jesus. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

As we’ve just noted, God saves by committing everything into the hands of Jesus and then offering Jesus to the world (John 3:35-36). All of salvation happens in Christ (i.e. forgiveness, new life, adoption, election, justification, etc, etc). God doesn’t do any of these things to us outside of Christ – He works them all in His Son and offers them only in Him.

8) Judgement and Salvation are not parallel tracks. (1 Peter 4:17)

It’s not really a matter of either curses or blessings. The world goes through ‘paradise lost’ to a new Jerusalem. Israel goes through exile and then returns. Christ goes through the cross to the resurrection.  We’re baptised into His death and, through our co-crucifixion with Christ, we enter into salvation.

9) Saving faith is not a thing. (John 1:10-13)

Some think of faith as a thing and then argue about whether it belongs to man or to God. But faith is not a thing. Christ is the one saving thing, given to the world. Where He is received – that is called faith. But faith isn’t the saving thing, Christ is.

10) The gospel is the power of salvation. (Romans 1:15-16)

The power of salvation – the Almighty Spirit of Christ – works in and through the word. We must not divorce word and Spirit. We must not imagine that the preaching of the gospel is one thing and saving power is something else – sometimes active, sometimes not. That would be to locate the power of salvation outside the gospel. But no, the gospel is God’s power to save. Most discussions about salvation would be improved if we had a stronger theology of the word.

Faith and Feelings

Posted on by glenscriv in faith, gospel, grace, pastoral theology | 11 Comments

not-feeling-it“We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

This is such a precious truth and so representative of the Bible’s ethic from Genesis to Revelation. Grace runs downhill – from the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit, to the church and then out to the world.  Grace is God’s gift of Jesus coming down from above.  Faith is simply receiving.

But as Paul says in Galatians 5:6, faith expresses itself in love. Having received from God, we pass on to others. This is the whole spiritual and ethical dynamic of the Bible: God’s love first, our love second. We’re empty before God and poured out towards the world.  The order and direction is crucial.

But let’s notice what 1 John 4 doesn’t say.

It doesn’t say: “We love because we’ve first felt loved.”

That might be the ideal situation, but it’s not exactly what John says. The Bible is not so interested in giving a psychological explanation for how love is appreciated and relayed. Our feelings of belovedness are not emphasized, the fact of God’s love is.

The difference might seem small, but focusing on the wrong thing can end up perverting both faith and love. Essentially what happens is this… we conceive of “faith” as an inner devotional work – a sentiment we must summon or nurse or “get”.  It’s our sense of belovedness that we need to feel. And, we tell ourselves, we must feel loved before we love others – after all we believe in the priority of grace. But it’s possible to twist the priority of grace into the priority of us. We consider our inner life to be our first duty and, therefore, service of others is secondary. And right there something’s gotten horribly twisted.

You see, what’s prior is not our inner life. What’s prior is the external, historical, blood-earnest love of Jesus. Indicatives do indeed come before imperatives, but that’s not the same as saying the internal comes before the external. No, the point is that Christ’s work (external to me) is a tad more significant than my work (whether it’s my internal devotion or my external service.)

I say this because I always hear (and I’ve often thought), “I don’t get grace. I know I’m meant to feel it. But it hasn’t transferred from my head to my heart, etc, etc.” Ever heard or thought the same? What should we say in response?

Well for one thing, let it be said: it’s a brilliant and biblical thing to want to ‘know the love of Christ’. Just listen to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:

 I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Here is something to pray for – grasping Christ’s love in its infinite magnitude. It’s not wrong to want to “feel it”! We are definitely meant to know this love. But notice, 1) it surpasses knowledge. We’re never going to “wrap our heads around it”, not fully. If we wait until we ‘get it’ we’ll wait forever. And more importantly, 2) we experience this love together with all the saints, as we are “rooted and established in love.” I think  the ‘love’ here is very probably love for each other (given how we’re meant to be ‘together’ with others). So you see Paul doesn’t tell us to take a holiday from serving the church family while we ‘go deep’ with God’s love. We comprehend God’s love in the context of community, as we love and serve our brothers and sisters.

That’s why Paul immediately moves on to chapter 4 (church life) and chapter 5 (life in the family) and chapter 6 (life in the world). These things are not a distraction from ‘feeling it’ but the very atmosphere in which we grasp the love of Christ.

Now, certainly, the order is important. Paul declares the love of God in Christ first. That’s what Ephesians 1-3 is all about. He prioritizes the indicatives of God’s gospel and he attempts to drive home these gracious truths to the heart. He also lets the Ephesians know he’s praying for them – that they will get it. He believes that their appreciation of this love is vital and so he invokes God’s almighty power in praying for it.  But he moves on. He points them to their church family, their blood family and their obligations to the world. He sets them in the context of their defining relationships and urges Christ-like love upon them.

What should we do if we don’t “feel it”?  Well we should certainly put ourselves in the path of gospel proclamation a la Ephesians 1-2. (And, please God, may that preaching aim at the heart). We should pray to grasp the knowledge of Christ’s love a la Ephesians 3. But we should also get on and serve others in just the ways that Ephesians 4-6 spells out.

If we baulk at serving others the way that Jesus and the Apostles command (because we’re not feeling it and we don’t want to pretend), what exactly are we implying about the Christian life? Do we think that Jesus has given us ‘busy work’ until He comes again? Hasn’t He simply set out the Good Life for us? When He asks us to serve our brothers and sisters, speak the truth in love, forgive those who hurt us, fulfil our earthly callings, etc, etc, do we imagine that these are arbitrary hoops to jump through?  What possible objection could we have to living the Good Life Christ calls us to?

Some will object, Isn’t it legalism to do things without ‘feeling it’?

Answer: No! Insisting you always have to feel it… that’s legalism.  As long as we’re all clear on Ephesians 1-2, how can “walking in the good works Christ has prepared for us” be legalism? (Ephesians 2:10).  Again we have to be clear – salvation by faith is not the same as salvation by feelings.

Other’s will say, Isn’t it hypocritical to do things without ‘feeling it’?

Answer: No! Continually keeping up appearances is hypocrisy. Knowing you’re spiritually dry, praying about it and serving others is a tremendous antidote to religious hypocrisy.

Is this just ‘fake it till you make it‘?

Answer: No! It’s a call away from fakery. Our Christian lives do not hold good in our own emotional lives but in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Refocussing our hope there is the opposite of pretence. And it’s the fastest route back to a joyful spiritual life.

In fact it’s the path to ecstasy. The Greek the word literally means standing outside yourself. And Martin Luther, in The Freedom of the Christian, tells us how to enjoy that state:

A Christian is in ecstasy, outside him or herself, extra nos. A Christian’s ecstasy is in Christ and in the neighbour: in Christ through faith and in the neighbour through love. In faith one ascends above oneself into God and from God one descends below oneself and yet always remains in God and God’s love.

Here’s what it looks like to remain in God’s love: we live far above ourselves in Christ by faith and far beneath ourselves in our neighbour through love. This is what turns us out of ourselves entirely – it’s ecstasy!  And it doesn’t depend on having to ‘feel it.’ The feelings will come.  But if we start with our hearts we’ll find it impossible to get beyond them.

Sifted but Lifted

Posted on by glenscriv in faith, gospel, mediation of Christ | Leave a comment

siftedThese are stunning verses from the night before Jesus’ death:

‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31-32)

Notice these 10 contrasts:

  • Satan makes a fearful proposal. Jesus gives a fearful permission.
  • Satan treats Simon like an inanimate object. Jesus calls Simon by name – three times in one sentence.
  • Satan is ruthless with Simon. Jesus is personal.
  • Satan sifts Simon before the world. Jesus lifts Simon before the Father.
  • Satan is weaker than Jesus but Simon is weaker than Satan.
  • Simon thinks of himself as iron for Jesus (see v32). Jesus doesn’t call him Peter (‘Rock’), He considers Simon to be as ‘flaky’ as wheat.
  • Simon thinks his resolve will motivate his brothers (v32), Jesus knows it will be his weakness that strengthens his brothers (v31).
  • Jesus prays for Simon, but His support will include the need for Simon to turn back.
  • While Jesus prays for Simon’s faith not to fail. Simon fails big time.
  • It’s not Simon who “fail’s not”, it’s Jesus’ prayer.

What is Faith? How Can I Live A Life of Faith? A Sermon

Posted on by glenscriv in faith, gospel, grace, sermons | 2 Comments

faith

DOWNLOAD AUDIO
(55 mins!)

Statements people make about faith:

“I wish I had your faith”

“As you know I could never share your faith”

“Faith is believing something you know isn’t real.”

“You just got to have faith.”

John 1:10-13 – Faith is recognizing and receiving

John 2:11 – Faith is responding to the glory of Jesus

Dutiful Derek

Derek’s Father says: “We’re going to visit the Grand Canyon and you’ll be awestruck!”

Derek says: “Do I have to be awestruck??”

Derek’s Father says: “One day you’ll meet a girl and you’ll fall in love?”

Derek says: “Do I have to fall in love?”

Derek’s Father says: We’re going to church to hear about the glory of Jesus and we’ll believe in Jesus.

Derek says: “Do I have to believe in Jesus?”

That’s a funny question isn’t it?

Faith is like being awestruck or falling in love – it must happen if you’re recognizing the glory of Christ!

John 3:13-16 – Faith is looking away from self to Jesus (cf Brazen Serpent)

John 20:24-31 – Faith is meeting the risen Jesus

The Christian life is a life of continuing faith

Through the Bible.

Faith is not something in me that I need to drum up

Faith is not a leap into the dark – it’s stepping into the light

In fact it’s being in the dark and having someone switch the light on

Faith is not a hoop you have to jump through to get something else: salvation

Galatians 2:17-3:5

Faith is receiving Jesus – it’s a life-long love affair.

Galatians 5:6

It begins by being passive with God and bears fruit in love for others

1 Samuel 17       

Faithless, fearful Israel are saved by their Faithful, Fearless King.

Their unbelief turns to faith when they see His victory: they shout and advance

Every day we need to same: to look to our Champion, to shout and advance.

The life of faith is a continual looking to Christ.

Mike Reeves: James does not contradict Paul or the Reformers

Posted on by glenscriv in faith, gospel, My videos, videos, works | 84 Comments

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udclCIFCGr4]

Taken from Mike’s series on justification here.

Why does faith save? [repost]

Posted on by glenscriv in faith, gospel | 11 Comments

Why is it that faith saves?  What’s so special about faith that it brings such benefits?

Because here’s how the whole deal is usually set up:

First we insist that God does not save us by our works.  No sir, we believe in ‘justification by faith alone.’  Therefore it’s not that God is armed with a clipboard and some binoculars waiting for an external moral act in order to flick the ‘justification’ switch.  How ridiculous.  No, no.  Instead we imagine God (with clipboard and brain scanner) eagerly seeking for a certain mental act within us.  And then He’ll zap righteousness into our account.

Yeah.  That’s much more reformed…

But honestly, for many, that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in a nut-shell.

Yet for the thoughtful who’ve been reared on such teaching it raises big questions.  Like, why faith?  Is it just that ‘faith’ keeps us humble and God simply wants to remind everyone who’s Boss?  In which case why give us Christ’s righteousness at all?  Why not just leave us in a sort of righteousness limbo forever – that’d keep us humble right?  And what’s the link between this act of mental assent and that imputation of saving stuff??  It all seems so arbitrary.

And it would be completely arbitrary so long as we keep Christ out of the discussion.  But once Jesus is central – and by that I mean the Person of Jesus (not just the Provider of a Perfect Righteousness) – then things start to fall into place.

Because faith is receiving Jesus Himself (John 1:10-12).  He gives Himself to the world in life and death, He pledges Himself to us (marriage style) in the gospel.  When we hear the gospel rightly we are swept off our feet by such a proposal and find ourselves saying “Yes.”   That is faith.  And by faith we are united to Christ.  In that union we have our salvation because salvation is all in Jesus.

So there’s nothing at all arbitrary about the connection between faith and salvation.  Because there’s nothing arbitrary about the link between a marriage vow and marriage union. Once we are united to Christ by faith, then of course we instantly have His name, His wealth, His family connections.  Of course then instantly we have the righteousness of Christ imputed.  But it’s not an impersonal imputation in response to an impersonal faith!

Justification by faith alone does not mean “being zapped simply because of mental assent.”  But we’ll never get that unless we put union with Christ at the centre.

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321 and Repentance (part two)

Posted on by glenscriv in 321, evangelism, faith, gospel, repentance | 6 Comments

This post is continued from here.

I’ve been pleased that, in the last month, the 321 video has been shared so widely.  It’s meant that I’ve been able to interact online with a handful of people who have raised questions about the presentation.  I’d say the reservation people have had is this: “Where’s repentance?”  In fact it’s pretty much the only objection I’ve heard so far.

I was bracing myself for Trinitarian discussions. I was gearing up to present robust defences of Adam’s historicity.  None of that has come up.  Yet.

But a good 8 or 10 times someone has said “This is a deficient gospel because there’s no summons to repent.”

There are a number of ways to respond to this.  One is simply to say “This is only a 5 minute summary.  You can’t say everything.”

Another is to say “the word ‘repent’ is not magic.  John’s Gospel, for one, gets along fine without it.”

Another is to say: “Repentance is not, properly speaking, a part of the good news.  The good news is the announcement of Jesus – His dying, rising, enthronement and return.  The gospel is not about us, it’s about Him.  Repentance is the response to the good news.”

Those things are true and they need saying at some point.  But in most cases I’ve responded with a question of my own.  Roughly speaking I’ve asked “Since 321 presents humanity as lost in Adam with no spiritual life in ourselves and no ability to produce life… and since the new life is presented as coming entirely from beyond us in Jesus… and since the new life of Jesus is presented as an all-embracing, marriage-like oneness with Jesus… what does the command to “be one with Jesus” lack which using the word “repent” would add?”

I’ve asked that kind of question many times but I’ve not yet received an answer.  So let me ask it more generally…

If we proclaim the renunciation of self in Adam and the receiving of new life in Christ, what more do we want in our definition of repentance?

I know that no-one in these discussions wants to question salvation by “faith alone.” But I do fear that – in wanting something more – ‘faith alone’ is exactly what’s in jeopardy.

In some evangelistic presentations I see a desire to present salvation as a discrete series of steps.  There tend to be a sling of synonyms made into stages.  The unbeliever is told to confess and profess and turn and surrender and trust and repent and submit and admit and believe and commit and do.  It’s not the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.  It’s more stream-lined than that.  And it’s about internal, mental hoops to jump through.  But still, so often it’s a system we offer to people rather than the simplicity of offering the Son.

Have you ever heard a “close the deal” evangelistic talk in which Jesus Himself is not presented or offered? Perhaps the preacher has simply piled up illustration upon illustration – “There’s a line… cross the line.  Jesus has given you a cheque… bank the cheque.  In the Matrix there’s a red pill and a blue pill… which pill will you take?” What might begin as a call to “simply trust Jesus” becomes an exhortation to adopt this attitude or that, this resolution or that, and then…  Well the thing is, when repentance is this discrete thing then the sinner who repents is only really left with their discrete repentance.  They’ve “made the step”, or whatever, but they’re in great danger of leaving the meeting with a resolution not a redeemer.

All of which is to say – Offer Christ.  The new life is in Him.  And if a non-Christian hears this offer and says “I’m not sure I have it in me to repent”, tell them:

“You definitely don’t have it in you. But God has given it to you in Jesus. Have Him!”

321 and Repentance (part one)

Posted on by glenscriv in 321, evangelism, faith, gospel, repentance | 9 Comments

This is part of a series exploring the interaction of 321 and the four events which more commonly organise an evangelistic presentation.  We’ve had

—  321 and Creation

—  321 and Fall

—  321 and Redemption

Now we’ll consider 321 and Repentance.

You’ll notice that I’m not considering Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.  More properly those are the four gospel events – all four resting in God’s hands.  I’m considering “repentance” rather  than “consummation” simply because the evangelistic presentations with which we’re familiar tend to finish with our work not God’s.  And perhaps that’s significant!  We’ll see.

Today we’ll examine repentance according to 3, 2 and 1.  Tomorrow we’ll draw out some implications…

How does 3 shape our understanding of repentance?

Trinity means that God is Giver (see here).  Therefore the Fall is a failure to receive from the giving God (see here).  What then will repentance involve?  Well it can’t involve a summoning up of religious resolve!  It can’t be the determination of the sinner to “get serious” and start making up the missed payments.  That kind of self-will is virtually the essence of sin!

No, repentance with the triune God means receiving the gift of the Son.  The Father has given Christ to the world (John 3:16).  The new life is not in us – it’s in Jesus (1 John 5:11).  Repentance – the new life we must have – is a gift of the Father, present in the Son, offered by the Spirit (Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).

How does 2 shape our understanding of repentance?

Adam cannot repent.  Adam can only perish.  This is a vital point to grasp and Edward Fisher in The Marrow of Modern Divinity expressed it well in dialogue form:

— I conceive that repentance consists in a man’s humbling himself before God, and sorrowing and grieving for offending him by his sins, and in turning from them all to the Lord.

— And would you have a man to do all this truly before he come to Christ by believing?

— Yea, indeed, I think it is very meet he should.

Why, then, I tell you truly, you would have him to do that which is impossible.

According to Paul, the unbeliever is dead in transgressions and sins and bound to Satan (Eph 2:1-3).  No exercise of moral or religious effort can deliver such a person (Phil 3:1-9).  The law, even the law of God, is powerless to save (Rom 3:20; 8:3).  And so the unbeliever is sunk in sin and flesh, bound to Satan, under the law’s condemnation, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).  There is nothing within the unbeliever that will help them.  Asking Adam to repent is like asking a corpse to ‘get fit’.  There needs to be a new life.  But the unbeliever is in no position to summon it.

How does 1 shape our understanding of repentance?

When I married my wife, “single Glen” died.  That old existence was put to death in our covenant union.  In this sense “old Glen” did not contribute to the marriage, “old Glen” was killed by the marriage.  I became new in one-ness with my wife.  And this newness was a radical, all-of-life revolution.  Nothing remained the same.  Every aspect of my life had to be rethought according to my married identity.  But I didn’t earn any of this.  It was all a gift that came part-and-parcel with the marriage.

In the same way, sinners are offered covenant union with Christ.  In this oneness they are killed and given a new existence.  Everything is different.  Nothing remains untouched by this unbreakable oneness.  The sinner does not (and cannot) earn it.  But in Jesus there is, suddenly, a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So then, what kind of “repentance” does 321 preach?

Let me break it down into some propositions that I tweeted earlier in the year:

  • Adam cannot repent. Adam can only perish.
  • True repentance must be done to us (as faith is done to us) since the greatest sin is to imagine that we can ‘do penance.’
  • There cannot be impenitent faith (if it’s true faith) or unbelieving repentance (if it’s true repentance).
  • Repentance and faith are not two separate stages of salvation. They are two sides of the same coin. But note – this is a coin God gives to us!
  • Repentance is given to us because Christ is given to us – and that’s the direction of travel, from Him to us.
  • We do not offer repentance to God as our part of the bargain. We’re summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the life of faith.

And as we offer Christ, we tell the unbeliever exactly what a life of one-ness will look like with Jesus.  Just as ‘marriage prep’ unveils the good and the bad of the union on offer, so we prepare people for the radical, total-life-change which Jesus brings.  But at the end of the day we offer Christ.  And we say as Spurgeon did:

Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are, but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. …The Gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifieth the ungodly, and that takes you up where you now are; it meets you in your worst estate. Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you that are the very sweepings of creation; come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon your bosom like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. (From “Justification of the Ungodly” by C.H. Spurgeon.  A sermon on Romans 4:5 – found in “All of Grace“)

For more on preaching repentance in evangelism, see this paper I wrote a few years ago.

And stay tuned for part two where we’ll tease out some more implications…

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