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A New Love-Orientation

24 Sep

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God…we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
-Romans 5:6-9, 11

Love is something we hear much about, yet the perception is that Christians do not love as they ought.  The question is: What does Christian love look like?  I would contend that for far too long, Christians have failed to love in two ways.  First, we have failed to love because we live by a worldly standard of what love is.  Second, we do not look to the cross to define the way in which we should love others.

Regarding the first point, we, Christians have oftentimes affirmed the world’s understanding and expression of love.  Its marked by blind acceptance of all people and beliefs as good and beneficial (even if only for that individual) on the one hand, and on the other, is marked by a preconditioned loveliness or worthiness of the person.  Put another way, we love those in whom we find something intrinsically lovely or worthy of our love.  It is a subjective, arbitrary, and judgment based love-orientation.

But the Bible, especially passages like that of Romans 5 above, sets forth a different love-orientation for those who have been redeemed.  It is a love-orientation shaped by the cross and looking towards the Kingdom to come.  It is a love that seeks to reflect the love shown to us by God in Christ Jesus.  Dr. Carl Trueman, writing on Luther’s theology of the cross, describes it like this:

And what of the idea of a God who comes down and loves the unlovely and the unrighteous before the objects of his love have any inclination to love him or do good?  Such is incomprehensible to the theologians of glory, who assume that God is like them, like other human beings, and thus only responds to those who are intrinsically attractive or good, or who first earn his favor in some way.  But the cross shows that God is not like that: against every assumption that human beings might make about who God is and how he acts, he requires no prior loveliness in the objects of his love; rather, his prior love creates that loveliness without laying down preconditions.  Such a God is revealed with amazing and unexpected tenderness and beauty in the ugly and violent drama of the cross.[1]

Luther taught that the fruit of justification (our being declared righteous by God in Christ) was an active life of love.  This includes love for God, which is, in part, expressed by our love for others (our neighbor).  We seek to willfully obey the guidance that God gives us (submitting to his authority) about what it means to be righteous, or as Anthony B. Bradley put it, “truly human.”   This includes loving those we would not have previously deemed worthy of love, and expressing love in ways that have no self-interested returns.

Yet, it means more than merely providing for people’s physical and emotional needs through goods and relationships; as Christians, it also means providing for their soul’s need for the Gospel.  We must recognize that all people are created as image bearers of God, and have an intrinsic worth and dignity.  And, yet, this is something that has been marred by the fall.  According to Anthony B. Bradley:

Because of the effects of the fall, every human being sins against the holiness of God the Creator by using God-given capacities in the service of Satan.  The only remedy for this soul’s condition is the liberation, redemption, and rescue of this fallen state by God’s sovereign intervention through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through the teaching of the gospel to bring those we love to repentance and faith in the person and work of Christ.  The full restoration of human dignity is achieved through the human person’s union with Christ.[2]

Thus, what is required is regular evangelism.  This, too, is a mark of Christian love.  We must boldly affirm that there is truth to be found in the pages of Scripture–truth that confronts us and our sin, and renders us condemned before a holy God–as well as grace–grace that blows us away by its cost, effects, and power.  And we must proclaim the gospel to all people; people from every tribe, tongue, and nation; men and women; adults and children; rich and poor; the outsider and the marginalized; the good and the bad.  If we are to love as Christ loved, we must extend love towards all.

Christian love is an objective, all-encompassing, and gracious love-orientation.

I pray that we might seek to put on and express this kind of love to the world around us.

 

[1] Carl Trueman, Luther’s Theology of the Cross”, from The Theologian, last updated 2005, accessed September 22, 2013 at http://www.theologian.org.uk/churchhistory/lutherstheologyofthecross.html.

[2] Anthony B. Bradley, “The Kingdom Today,” from The Kingdom of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 231-233.

Luther on Preaching

27 Aug

Preaching.  The word brings with it a great load of baggage.  Ask people about preaching and they will respond with a variety of perspectives and experiences.  I’ve had my own varied experiences with preaching, but my perspective has not changed: Preaching is indispensable.

The reason I say this is because of the way I believe God works through the preaching of His word.  In his book, Theology of the Reformers, Timothy George writes the following regarding Luther’s perspective on the preaching of God’s word (a perspective that, generally speaking, I agree with):

“Public preaching of the Word of God is an indispensable means of grace and a sure sign of the true church.  Through the words of the preacher, the living voice of the gospel is heard.”

With this in mind, I wanted to present a few preaching tips from the man himself, Martin Luther, that will hopefully prove helpful:

“Let him speak forth vigorously and clearly, not as though he had a leaf in front of his mouth.”
While it may express itself differently in different people, there should be an energy and passion that exudes from the preacher as he proclaims and explains the Scriptures.  He should also do everything within his ability to make sure he speaks clearly so as to be understood.

“More important, the preacher should have something worth saying.”
Preachers do not exist to merely relate stories and tell jokes (lets be honest, most struggle with the latter of these two).  Rather, they are to help God’s people better understand God’s word, the God it reveals, and how they are to live in relation to that God.  This requires knowing one’s congregation, as well as knowing and studying the Scriptures, and coming to the pulpit with a clear idea of what he is going to say.

“Let the preacher be a bonus textual is–a good one with the text–well versed in the Scriptures.”
Transitioning from the previous point, the preacher must be good with the text.  He should be well versed in the Scriptures, and give himself over to them in preparing his message for the people.

“The sermon should not be couched in theological jargon, but in the clear, crisp language of the people.”
Know your flock.  Don’t speak over their heads with high and lofty terminology that only your seminary professors would understand.  Put such things in clear, concise ways that your congregation can understand them as they arise from the text.  Illustrate and apply things when you sense something may be difficult to understand.  As Luther said, “I do not preach to Drs. Pomeranus, Jonas, and Philipp, but to my little Hans and Elizabeth.”

Above all, preaching must be true to its proper content, which is Christ.”
In preaching, point people to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Let them see how all the Scriptures are about Him.  Encourage, comfort, and challenge people in light of the grace of God revealed in Christ and the great and mighty promises we have in Him.

And one final tip from Luther:

“The three marks of good preachers are these: He stands up, speaks up, and knows when to shut up!”

On Christian Zeal: Part 4

12 Jun

helping2

Christian Zeal is devoted to good works.

Oftentimes we hear the cry, “Deeds not creeds!”  Such cries come as a reaction to the intellectually-driven churches and individuals who spend all their time studying, gaining more information, and oftentimes failing to act on all that information. This reaction, however, swings too far in the other direction, diminishing the distinctive truths of our faith that inform our deeds, for the sake of “doing.”

As we have seen in the previous installment of this series, Christian zeal is ruled by Scripture (what we believe about God, man, sin, justice, redemption, life, death, etc.) and, therefore, is necessary for any works that we might do.  We must know what we believe and why we believe it before we can serve in ways that accurately reflect our beliefs and fulfill the calling God has given His people.

Does this, then, exempt us from good works?  By no means!  As we grow in our understanding of God’s Word, our love for our Heavenly Father grows as well, and out from this flows both a desire for, and the performing of, good works towards others.  We see this pattern laid out for us in Ephesians 2:1-10.  Paul explains the sinfulness of man, the graciousness of God, and salvation by grace through faith, in Christ, and then, in light of these things, states in verse ten: We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.  Good works that were prepared by God beforehand.  Why? So that in light of His gracious redemption in Christ Jesus, we might walk in them, to His glory and the good of our neighbors.

This reveals what our motive should be in doing good works.  In light of the grace given to us in Christ, we should strive to be gracious towards our neighbors in whatever ways we can.  We show love because we have been loved.  We forgive because we have been forgiven.  We serve because we have been served.  And all of this serves as a testimony to the truth of the God of grace, as 1 Peter 2:12 says, “they [Gentiles/unbelievers] may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

And in this way, we also participate in God’s work of restoration.  There will come a day, when Christ returns, and all things are restored to the way God intended them to be.  All things will again be “good”.  The Kingdom will be established on earth, and we will live and serve in worship to God.  Yet, until that day, we see the reign of Christ and the restoration of the earth taking place in the good works God has prepared for us to walk in.

Pray that God would enliven your heart to good deeds as you continue to grow in your knowledge and love of God through the Scriptures.  And may our cry be, “Creeds and deeds, to the glory of God and the good of man!”

Quotable

7 Jun

“A doctrine that cannot produce its own converts writes its own condemnation”
-C.H. Spurgeon 

Quotable

25 May

“It does not matter if your religion satisfies you; what matters is that which satisfies God!”
-Dr. Howard Eyrich

 

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