God Glorified in Man’s Dependence

December 29, 2012

[This is a summary of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon in Boston July 8, 1731 – his first published work. See the entire sermon – almost five times as long – here. I encourage you to meditate on your dependence on God as the year concludes, and to resolve to live more and more fully in light of that dependence in 2013 – Coty]

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)

Paul wrote this letter to Greeks, who held human wisdom in high regard. God destroys human wisdom through the Gospel. Even the greatest human wisdom cannot lead to a full knowledge of God; but it pleases God to reveal Himself graciously, so that “no human being might boast.” By this we see:

1)      God’s aim in His plan of redemption: that man should glory not in himself, but in God alone.

2)      How that end is attained: By man’s absolute dependence on God in the work of redemption.

Doctrine

I) There is an absolute and universal dependence of the redeemed on God

The redeemed have all of their good of God, through God, and in God: Of Him, in that He is the cause and origin of all good things; through Him, in that He is the means by which we obtain every good thing; and in Him, in that He Himself is the greatest good. Therefore, the redeemed are entirely dependent upon God for their all.

Consider these in turn:

1)      The redeemed have all good OF God.

  1. God gives us our Redeemer, as Christ is His only Son.
  2. God gives us faith so that we might be in Christ (Ephesians 2:8).
  3. The benefits that come to us in Christ are from God: He is the one who pardons and justifies and cleanses and transforms and sanctifies.
  4. God Himself is the source of the means of grace He uses in our sanctification.
  5. God gives us His Word.
  6. God gives us His ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  7. God gives us His human ministers, and their success depends entirely and absolutely on Him.

All these are given purely by grace – indeed, by infinitely great grace. For we were completely unworthy of His gift, instead meriting His wrath. And God gave this gift most freely. He could have rejected fallen man, as He did the fallen angels. There was nothing in us to attract Him, and nothing in the saved to distinguish them from the unsaved. We are completely dependent upon Him for holiness, for His favor, for happiness – we would have none of these apart from His free grace.

Furthermore, all of these come from the power of God (Ephesians 1:19). We are dependent on God’s power through every step of our redemption: To convert us, to give us faith in Jesus, and to give us a new nature. For God must create us anew (2 Corinthians 5:17); indeed, He must raise us from the dead (Colossians 2:12-13). Yet this is a more glorious work of power than the first creation or even raising a man from the dead, because the new spiritual life is more glorious – especially in contrast with the depth of corruption to which we fell. God magnifies His power then further in preserving us in His grace (1 Peter 1:5). The redeemed are dependent on God’s power for every exercise of grace, for continually redirecting our hearts, for subduing sin, for producing good works, for becoming Christlike – and ultimately for our new bodies in the new heavens and new earth.

2)       The redeemed have all good THROUGH God.

All the benefits the redeemed receive come through the Mediator, Jesus, who is God Himself. God is both the purchaser and the price of our redemption, for Christ purchased these blessing for us by offering up Himself.

3)      The redeemed have all good IN God. And this holds both for the good that gives them joy, and for the pleasure itself in their souls.

  1. a.      The good that gives the redeemed their highest joy is God Himself. God is the inheritance of the saints, their wealth, treasure, food, life, dwelling-place, crown, honor, and glory. They have none in heaven but God. The beauty of God will forever give joy to the saints, and His love will be their everlasting feast. While the redeemed will enjoy the angels, one another, and the redeemed creation, whatever yields delight in these will be what is seen of God in them.
  2. b.      The joy itself of the redeemed comes from a kind of participation in God. God puts His own beauty upon their souls. They are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). This occurs through the Holy Spirit dwelling in the redeemed. He, acting in, upon, and with the soul, becomes a fountain of true holiness and joy (John 4:14, 7:38-39). By partaking of the Holy Spirit, the redeemed have communion with Christ in His fullness. Indeed, the Spirit of God is the great promise of the Father (Luke 24:49).

All the benefits the redeemed receive come through the Mediator, Jesus, who is God Himself. God is both the purchaser and the price of our redemption, for Christ purchased these blessing for us by offering up Himself.

II) God is glorified in the work of redemption through this great, universal dependence on Him

1)      Through this dependence, man has greater occasion and obligation to acknowledge God’s character. It is easy for us to neglect and ignore those things on which we do not depend, but we of necessity think of and concern ourselves with those things on which we depend.

2)      This dependence demonstrates the greatness of God’s glory compared to the creature’s. The greater that men exalt themselves, so much the less they exalt God. But God’s work of redemption shows that the creature is nothing, and God is all. He is seen to be infinitely above us in strength, wisdom, and holiness. It is this acknowledgment of the difference between us and God that yields God the glory He deserves.

3)      God therefore has our whole souls, and should be the object of our undivided respect. If we had our dependence partly on God and partly on something else, we would divide our respect among God and the other. But now this cannot happen once we understand the nature of redemption: Whatever attracts our respect is seen to be the gift of God, and so our respect unites in Him as the center.

Application

1)      Marvel at God’s wisdom in the work of redemption! God has made man’s ruined state through the Fall an occasion for the advancement of His glory. He does this through our being even more dependent on Him today than Adam and Eve were before the Fall. God lifts us up and exalts us in such a way that we deserve no glory, but He deserves it all. Furthermore, God accomplishes this in such a way that each person of the Trinity is equally glorified in the work, as the redeemed are absolutely dependent on every Person for all.

2)      Any teaching that takes away our absolute dependence upon God attempts to diminish the glory God deserves, and thus to thwart the design of our redemption.

3)      This explains why salvation is by faith. For faith is an acknowledgment of absolute dependence on God for salvation. This is how God glorifies Himself in redemption. Faith declares that man can do nothing, and God does everything, so that He receives all the glory for redemption. To be saved, man must humble himself as a child; he must acknowledge that he is “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). It is the delight of the believing soul to humble itself and to exalt God alone (Psalm 115:1).

4)      Therefore, let us exalt God alone, and ascribe to him all the glory of redemption. Let us have a greater and greater understanding of our great dependence upon God; let us put to death a self-dependent and self-righteous disposition. Man is prone to exalt himself, and to depend on his own power or goodness, thinking happiness will come through his efforts. He is prone to think that happiness will come from objects God withholds or denies. But this doctrine should teach us to exalt God alone – by trust, by reliance, and by praise. So let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

  1. Do any of you think that you are saved, that your sins are forgiven, that you have God’s favor, that you are God’s child – indeed, that you are an heir of eternal life? Then give God all the glory! He alone makes you different from the worst of men.
  2. Do any of you have much comfort and strong hope of eternal life? Do not let this hope exalt you, but rather reflect on your own unworthiness of such a favor, and so exalt God alone.
  3. Are any of you abundant in good works and holiness? Take no glory of that abundance to yourself, but ascribe it to him who “created [us] in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

Christmas, God as Author, and the Problem of Evil

December 21, 2012

[Here are the last several paragraphs of Joe Rigney's article "Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil: Biblical, Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question," posted December 21 at Desiring God. You will benefit greatly from reading it in its entirety. Joe is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary - Coty]

This is what the Incarnation is all about: the Author of the story becoming not just a character, but a human character. In this narrative, God is the storyteller and the main character. He is the Bard and the hero. He authors the fairy tale and then comes to kill the dragon and get the girl.

The Incarnation is God’s definitive answer to the emotional problem of evil. The living God is not a detached observer or absentee landlord. He doesn’t stand aloof from the suffering and pain and evil that forms the central tension of his epic. The God who is born is also the God who bleeds, the God who dies, the God who identifies with our sorrows by becoming the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.

God comes down, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and draws to himself all of the sin and the shame, the rebellion and the hate, the sickness and the death, and swallows it whole. And he swallows it by letting it swallow him. The Dragon is crushed in the crushing of the Prince of Peace. The triumphant hour of darkness and evil occurs on the day we know as Good Friday.

This biblical paradigm frees Rachel to lament when Herod slays her little children, to weep that her little ones are no more, knowing that God is weeping with her, shedding Christmas tears of sovereign mercy. And it does so without removing the soul-anchoring consolation that the Author of this story has good and wise purposes in writing his story in the way that he does. We desperately need both aspects of the analogy. We need a Sovereign Author who crafts each chapter, paragraph, and sentence (no matter how horrible) into a fitting narrative, one in which evil exists to be crushed underfoot. And we need a Consoling Character, a very present help who identifies and suffers with the brokenhearted, entering into our pain and loss with love that will endure long after the last tear falls.

Because in the story God is telling, evil does not have the last word. Good Friday is not the end (which is why it’s so good). He burst from the spiced tomb on Resurrection Sunday, commissioned his disciples, and ascended to his throne, where now he sits until all of his enemies are subdued under his feet, including and especially Evil.

This then is the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Christian answer to the problem(s) of evil. It is the confession of Jesus Christ, the Divine Author who never himself does evil, but instead conquers all evil by enduring the greatest evil, and thereby delivers all those enslaved and oppressed by evil who put their hope in him.

O Come, O Come Immanuel.

The Folly of Scientism

December 19, 2012

University of South Carolina Biology Professor Austin Hughes, writing in the fall edition of The New Atlantis:

Both in the work of professional philosophers and in popular writings by natural scientists, it is frequently claimed that natural science does or soon will constitute the entire domain of truth. And this attitude is becoming more widespread among scientists themselves. All too many of my contemporaries in science have accepted without question the hype that suggests that an advanced degree in some area of natural science confers the ability to pontificate wisely on any and all subjects. . . . Is it really true that natural science provides a satisfying and reasonably complete account of everything we see, experience, and seek to understand – of every phenomenon in the universe? And is it true that science is more capable, even singularly capable, of answering the questions that once were addressed by philosophy?

Read the whole article. (HT: Justin Taylor)

Post-Caroling Party of the Nations

December 18, 2012

Check out this video of our party Sunday evening in the home of our Burmese friends, after caroling (in the drizzle) through the Sailboat Bay Apartments. Featuring songs in Ciin (from Burma), Swahili, and Tamil.

(Note: You have to be logged in to Facebook to view the video).

Moe Bergeron, DGCC, Faithfulness, and the Kingdom

December 18, 2012

Don’t miss this excellent video from Desiring God about the beginning of the DG internet ministry. The video features my friend Moe Bergeron, a bi-vocational pastor in New England. It is not far-fetched to say that were it not for Moe, there would be no Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte.

Moe began posting Pipers Notes on the fledgling internet in 1995. Very shortly thereafter I found the site via some early search engine. I had never read anything by John Piper before. My brother-in-law Ed, however, had been extolling Piper so I recognized the name. I found his sermons exceptionally helpful, and returned regularly to see if Piper had preached on passages I was about to tackle.

At the time, Moe organized the sermons only by date. There was no index by Scripture passage, limiting its usefulness to me. So I contacted Moe and asked him if someone was working on such an index. He said a few folks had approached him indicating they might produce one, but no one had actually done it. I completed it over the next couple of weeks. Moe was surprised and delighted. He and I continued a correspondence, and we met a few times in the late 90s at conferences in New England. We immediately clicked, finding a real kinship in the God-centered Gospel.

Then, in 2000, after becoming certain that our Lord was calling me into full-time ministry, I wrote Bethlehem Baptist, asking if I might spend 3 months at the church in preparation. No one at Bethlehem knew me; nevertheless, they said yes. I later learned that it was my work on the Pipers Notes Scripture index that proved I was not just some random person trying to get close to an increasingly well-known preacher, but already was part of this God-centered movement.

So I thank God for Moe Bergeron, his vision for free resources on the internet, his boldness in approaching Piper, and his faithfulness to his calling. And I stand amazed at our sovereign God who weaves our lives together into the tapestry of His Kingdom for the glory of His Name.

The Bible Unity Reading Plan

December 14, 2012

Should you read the Bible?

Jesus says, “Blessed . . . are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)

How will reading the Bible bless you?

Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

How then should you read God’s Word?

Those same verses from Paul imply that we should read all of it, since every part of it is profitable.

Surely also you should read it daily; in addition you should read it submissively. In Proverbs 8, personified Wisdom cries out:

Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death (Proverbs 8:33-36, emphasis added).  

But what does this look like on a day to day and year to year basis?

If we are to read the Bible daily, with a goal of reading it in its entirety, we will need a plan. I first followed an annual, comprehensive Bible reading plan in 1984. This plan was purely chronological; I began reading with Genesis 1 on January 1 and finished with Revelation 22 on December 31, but in between the plan guided me through Scripture in the order in which events and prophecies occurred. This was eye-opening to me. Though I had grown up in church and in fact had read all of Scripture previously, I had never before seen the overall flow of God’s plan of redemption. In particular, the writings of prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah became much more meaningful to me as I read them in conjunction with the historical books. In addition, many psalms came to life as I read them in the context of surrounding events.

I followed chronological plans several more times in subsequent years. However, there are significant weaknesses in following such a plan repeatedly for your daily devotional reading. First of all, you read nothing from the New Testament for more than nine months of the year. Second, a strictly chronological plan jumps around in the four Gospels. The reader therefore misses what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John communicate through the way they each order and select from the events of Jesus’ life. Finally, following chronological plans requires a lot of page flipping.

So twelve years ago I developed the Bible Unity Reading Plan, which yields the benefits of a chronological approach while avoiding these weaknesses.  The Bible Unity Plan has two tracks for each day. The longer track – the left hand column in each day’s reading – is chronological. The second track, in the right column, is a shorter reading from another part of Scripture. This second track includes Matthew, Mark, and John – read straight through – and several epistles while the chronological track makes its way through the Old Testament; it then focuses on Psalms and Proverbs while the chronological track takes you through the remaining books of the New Testament. And with only two passages to read most days, there is minimal page-flipping. The Plan also follows a helpful feature of the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan, scheduling only 25 days of reading per month. This allows you to read something else on Sundays (which I like to do), or to catch up easily if you miss an occasional day.

I have used this plan (or a variant of it) every year from 2001 to the present. I enjoy beginning each New Year with Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-3:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

I also enjoy the 14th reading in November, which pairs the message of Acts 15 – those from other nations need not become Jewish to be saved – with the foundation of that message in Psalm 67: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!”

In 2001 – the first time I read through the Bible following the plan – I was astounded by God’s providence. Living in West Africa, on September 11 we did not hear about the destruction of the Twin Towers until late afternoon. That evening I turned to the 11th reading for September – and read three times of the heart-rending but long-prophesied destruction of Jerusalem from 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 39, and Jeremiah 52.

Finally, every year I look forward to the final day’s readings, which sum up the entire storyline of the Bible:

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” . . . The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. . . . He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:12-13, 17, 20)   

Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven (Psalm 148:7-13).  

I expect to follow this plan, and to finish each year reading those words, as long as I live. I encourage you to join me.