Sunday, 1 September 2013

A Tale of Two Fires

John 21: 7-17

The night was dark, the breeze crisp and the air carried a sense of uneasiness.
there were rumblings throughout the city. Something big was happening.

A close group of friends have seen their leader taken captive and he faces execution,
sadness lurks,
and a man edges closer to a fire that was burning in the courtyard to warm in this night of misery.

“You also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?”

“I am not.” Comes the response

“You also are not one of his disciples, are you?”

And again “I am not.”

“Did I not see you in the garden with him?”


“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter, the first disciple to declare that Jesus was indeed the Christ, that he was the son of God.

But who do you say that I am, “you are the Christ” says Peter.

and on the night Jesus informed Peter of his coming denials he even said
“Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

“Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow till you have denied me three times.”

Peter, ever the faithful, bold disciple, he says “you will never wash my feet" and within an instant desires to be completely washed.
"Then wash all of me”

Peter the one to whom Jesus said “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

You can almost hear him protesting indignantly that he would never ever reject Jesus.

And yet even the mightiest fall.

We can see even from Psalm 51, that God’s anointed king fell into sin, But much like with David, Peter is restored.

We see this ever so clearly in this passage dont we?

Peter’s Restoration:

Peter had fallen with a bang.
But that is not the end, you see his rejections were redeemed.
Peter was restored.

We must feel the weight of this, we need to get into this story. Can you imagine the grimace on Peter’s face?

Cock-a-doodle-do ...

Crushing, what a disastrous noise for Peter to hear.
This was the realization of his sin.

Then the morning after the night before, or rather a few mornings after the night before and the scene changes from the cold darkness of night, where there was a fire for warmth that Peter stood around rejecting his Lord, to...

... the warm brightness of morning. The fire of friendship, of fellowship, the fire that cooks breakfast.

Oh, how the perspective changes!

It is the Lord on the shore.

and in typical Peter fashion, he cant wait, he is in the water swimming to embrace his Lord.

Jesus' response to Peter’s sin is to make him breakfast.

and so begins the real work of restoration.

Peter, dripping wet around the fire, dining with Christ.

I wonder if there was much conversation around that fire, or was the tension building until finally breakfast was done and the heart penetrating questions began.

Simon, Son of John “Do you love me more than these?”
do you love me more than the rest of the disciples? do you?

"Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."

The fact this question had to be asked would have cut Peter to the core.
"you know that I do."

and we should note here That he is addressed as Simon, not Peter.
Simon the man who had not known Christ. As opposed to Peter, the Rock on which the church would be built. Simon the fisherman, who after his sin had returned to his old ways (verse 3). "I am going fishing"

a writer puts it like this
“Peter, do you remember your human weakness? remember what you were like before I met you? This question (Simon, do you love me?), though motivated by love, was calculated to hurt, and it did.”

Peter had said “even if all fall away on account of you, I never will”

These questions would have hurt. How could he ask this, he knows I love him... doesn’t .... doesn't he?
Questions that hurt yet they needed to be asked.

Jesus second question removes comparisons with the other disciples... the point has been made. He was not superior to them

Just Peter and Jesus this time... do you love me?

The bottom line. The crux. do you love me?

"yes Lord you know that I do."

The superiority of Peter’s love was challenged in the first question
The second asks if he even loved Jesus at all!

The third question, repeating the second, asks do you really love me?

Peter is hurting, three times, how could he. Three times. Oh the irony.
so he responds more boldly, you know all things, you know that I love you!

and so the beautiful symmetry of his denials and his declaration of love is complete.
Jesus takes him at his word. Jesus does know all things. He knew the affection Peter had, but Peter needed to see that he was not superior, he needed to see that he truly did Love Jesus despite his sin.

and so with three rejections, comes three redemptions. Peter is restored completely. 3 failures, 3 times he declares his Love.

If we had Peter’s Restoration
his love for the Lord,
and his rejections redeemed.

then we should also see
Peter’s Response.

His task now is to feed, tend and feed Jesus’ sheep.
the pattern of three continues with three commissions. feed, tend and feed.

and as we think about God's great grace toward Peter, is this not a great encouragement to us?
Yes Peter sinned, he failed significantly. Peter is still going to be at the centre of Jesus building his church. That is marvellous.

We know that our own rejections of Jesus are common. We know our sins are common. So with Peter, though he was restored. Jesus searched his heart and found it to be loving toward him. And so from there, from a heart in love with Jesus, Peter was to serve him. To tend the sheep. To build the church.

and have we experienced a restoration like this?
have we felt that heart wrenching realisation of sin, only to feel the heart warming redemption of our saviour?

and so we turn to serve him, to labour for him in the church!

there is restoration and because of this there is response. There is tending to do.

but dont we have a saviour that cares for this too?

The same saviour said
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail (or fail completely). And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

And we see some of the fruits of Peter’s response in 1 Peter 5 where in guiding leaders in leading he returns to the metaphor of his restoration, urging them to Shepherd the flock...
Peter displays humility in this reference. Having in focus his own failing, whilst urging those who were leaders to tend the sheep, to "Shepherd the flock"! Peter had evidently responded to his restoration.

Isn’t this a great spur for serving and tending? and to pray for serving and tending? Jesus cared to build his church so that the gates of hell would not prevail against it... and Peter was the living embodiment of it.

He was restored. He loved the lord and from here he was to get to work with the sheep.

Imagine standing on the shore with Christ, just you and him, only with the sea of eternity as the backdrop, Christ looks at you with knowing eyes.
Do you love me? Without comparing yourself to others, do YOU really love me? Do you have an affection for me?
We must love him first and foremost, more than anything or one. And our failings, as we see with Peter are no excuse. If we can answer this yes, then we have the privilege of getting to work in the church.

Remember these two things.
Let us Love our Lord,  really love him.
And then in so doing let us secondly respond to his restoration of us by serving the church, the sheep.

so lets pray that we would ever increasingly be loving our Lord as we seek to minister his glorious gospel.

Two fires with two very different perspectives.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Taking the Battle to Satan

This morning I was speaking at a communion service, you may think it strange to speak on this passage for a communion service. A passage about temptation. Well this passage is about temptation, and the temptation Jesus faced was very real and reveals Satan at his most cunning. However, there is much more going on here than merely three temptations. 

In terms of the story of Jesus we find ourselves almost at the very start, this is just before he begins his public ministry. 

And if you look back with to chapter three, immediately before this passage is the genealogy, skip that briefly and go slightly further back. Immediately before Jesus heads out to the wilderness in this account He has just been baptised. And at his baptism he is anointed by the spirit and a voice from heaven, the Father, says “you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”

This is proof number 1. That Jesus is the son of God. 
Then we have the last verse of Chapter 3 in the genealogy which ends with “the son of Adam, the son of God”. 

The second proof for Jesus’ identity, that he is the son of Adam, the son of God. 

And so following from these he ends up in the wilderness. 
Interestingly in verse 1 we see that Jesus full of the Spirit, was led by the Spirit to the wilderness. So Satan’s attack comes in step with the Spirits leading. 

James Philip notes something crucial about this, it is that “Here is the King entering into enemy-occupied territory, to subdue the kingdom to Himself - through suffering”. 

The spirit leads Jesus into battle. To take on Satan. This is not a surprise attack, it is intentional.

Jesus, the second Adam (remember son of Adam, son of God) is about to experience his very own Eden. His own temptations. 

And the Eden theme here is clear. 

Eve was deceived by Satan who created doubt around the truth. Did God really say? surely he wouldn’t have! (Genesis 3)

For Jesus, the attack is not so much the actual acts that he is tempted to perform as what they would represent. Remember the two proofs of Jesus Identity? 

Well, it is no coincidence that this account follows them. Because Satan’s attack is on that very identity. “If you are the son of God” 
IF you are the son of God. 

'Are you sure you heard a voice say that? Did you not just get caught up in the euphoria of your baptism. Maybe you think you heard a voice say you were Gods son. Come on you haven't eaten for forty days, your mind is not thinking straight.' 

Now He was hearing another voice now, which should he listen to?

oh you think you are the son of God.... well then prove it. Go on, turn the stones to bread. 
prove it, go on show that the angels are looking after you, jump off the temple. 

The attack is on what Is true, the attack is on what God said. Just like Eden, with the temptation over food and then the temptation to be God like. In Eden of course it is 'you will be like God', here it is you can have all the kingdoms of the world. Finally throw yourself off the temple, and you will be saved and in Eden Satan says 'surely you won't die". 

However unlike the first Adam, Jesus does not cave to temptation. 
Jesus faces the temptations head on by quoting scripture, he faces it head on by turning to the law in Deuteronomy. The wilderness section of the Law.  

As well as Jesus being the Second Adam, we see him here as the perfect Israel. 
Second Adam and Perfect Israel

IF you are the son of God - Turn the stones into bread

“Man shall not live by bread alone”

Worship me and you shall have authority and power over all the kingdoms

You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”

Jump off the temple, prove you are God’s son. He will surely protect you. 

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” 

Make no mistake these temptations would have been very real and very tempting to Jesus. An assault on his very identity that he could swat away with a simple miracle of changing stone to bread. In fact it was doubly tempting because he was fasting forty days, so hunger would have crept in.

Then... authority over all the kingdoms of the world, power over all..... without the crossA backdoor to achieve what would be his anyway. Merely bow to Satan instead of the agony of the cross. We take lightly this passage if we do not grasp the reality of temptation. If it wasn’t tempting it wouldn’t cause temptation for you. 

But Jesus takes hold of the Law. He shows a full appreciation and knowledge of it. 
Whilst these things were appealing, Jesus knew what was infinitely better. He had his purpose in mind. 

Man shall not live by bread alone, you shall worship the Lord only and do not test Him. 
Faithfulness to the Lord is utmost. 

Jesus whilst in the wilderness, like the Israelites, did what they could not. For forty days he was there and faced stinging attacks (but remember he was led to the wilderness by the spirit). He was there to take on Satan. This was battle. So whilst Israel failed in their faithfulness for their forty years, Jesus was the perfect Israel. And we know from Exodus that God calls Israel his firstborn. So Jesus is the perfect firstborn, the perfect Israel and the perfect second Adam

Satan challenged the first Adam in the garden, and now we have Jesus’ counter attack challenging the devil. The devil ruins Adam but the second Adam spoils the devil... even here at the beginning of his ministry. 

Christ in the wilderness here is taking on a representative, or a substitutionary role. It was in a very real sense, for us, that he was suffering and being tempted. 
We see in Jesus’ temptations a foreshadowing, a first round, a rehearsal of the suffering for sin that was to come. And Christ by standing perfect in the law, by holding fast to God’s word wins this encounter. 

Satan was trying to show Christ a way free of suffering. 'Don’t go without food, you are the son of God'. 'You are the son of God, have all the kingdoms.'

And all the way to the cross this was Satan’s desire. Even leading Peter to say “far be it from you, this shall never happen to you.” But again Jesus wins “Get behind me Satan."

or whilst on the cross, he is mocked If you are who you say you are bring yourself down off the cross!

Satan despairs of the cross because it is his death penalty. So Christ by choosing suffering here in the face of temptation strikes a blow for us. 

What we have in this passage is much more than instruction on how to fight temptation. 
No friends, what we have in this passage is Jesus striking the first blow on his way to striking the final blow. This is battle, this is Jesus being our representative and substitute. 

Because of this, because of Jesus victory here, he could and would go on and die for us, as is remembered by communion services. Because of this, Jesus death and victory, we are accepted as God’s adopted sons and daughters. 

And yet as we do remember this, or as we come to celebrate communion, often we still face a common lie. We too face regularly the attack that Jesus did....

If you are the son of God
IF you are a son of God.... prove it

how could you be? on what merit... 
prove that you are!

And now especially as we celebrate Christ’s death, I plea with you not to buy that lie. DON’T BUY THE LIE. Each one of us here, stands before God adopted not by our proving it, but by leaning on Christ, our substitute, our representative. Don’t buy satan’s lie, When he whispers with all his cunning that we need to prove it... remember this passage, Christ chose the path of suffering for us, our proof is him, his perfect life and the blood of his perfect death. 

Christ chose suffering throughout his ministry in order to crush Satan. This was the first significant blow, this is much more than fighting temptation, this was Jesus defeating the devil. 

Friday, 8 February 2013

Learning two things from two deaths

I have been pondering Acts 5 recently. It's a commonly overlooked passage, but

I wonder if in any of the prayer meetings you have been to if anyone has ever dropped dead? Perhaps some of you have witnessed a sudden death, I never have, But I wonder if you have been in a church meeting and seen someone struck down in judgment because of sin?
I imagine that you probably would not have. But That is what we read about in Acts 5, so please  have a read of Acts chapter 5:1-11

"But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet.
 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?
 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."
 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
 And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much."
 But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."
 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things."

What a truly frightening scene. What an extreme harshness.
Struck down for one instance of deceit. A pretence intended to boost a reputation, met with death.
If this was a hard and fast rule, we would be in trouble wouldn't we?

Well lets have a look to see what Luke may be wanting to teach us.

In the early stages of Acts we see that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and then Peter preaches and about 3000 are converted. There is an explosion to the number of Christians. A truly significant day and event in the history of the church.

Then we have more instances of the gospel going forth, the church growing as Peter preached in Solomon's portico and up to about 5000 now.

Then they faced opposition. Their message was offensive to the Jewish leaders and so they were imprisoned and brought before the high priest.

Peter responded with boldness and proclaiming Jesus and no crime was found so they were released.

This was the first attempt of satan to halt the early church. Persecute them, threaten imprisonment. See if that will stop them.

They continue to be bold and preach the gospel and were united together.

This is the build up to chapter 5.

A commentator summarises chapter four like this:
"Chapter 4 begins with the jewish hierarchy seeking to impose a blanket of silence, but ends with the Lord's laughter from heaven scoffing at them, the bold testimony of the Spirit filled church, and the shaking of the place where they met."
This happens in immediately before Ananias and Sapphira.
Growth, the Holy Spirit moving powerfully then opposition, but the gospel continues. The First attempted opposition fails, it is an attempt from outside.

Now again we have an occurrence that could damage God's people. A second attack on this young church.

Ananias and Sapphira.

You see this attack on the church from satan was at a crucial juncture for the church. If satan could stop this church then, he would be destroying the only church there was.

So his next attack comes in the form of the spiritual deception of two believers in the church.

There are two important things to note here.  The first is that their sin is A sin before the community

We have already seen Barnabas sell a field and give the money for the work of the apostles. At the End of chapter 4.

An incident recorded in just two verses and without much hype.

But Ananias and Sapphira seek to copy Barnabas' act in order, most likely to be seen on a level footing spiritually with Barnabas. However, vitally they want to be seen like him, yet are not prepared to incur the cost he does. They decide to hold some of the money back for themselves from their field.
You may be thinking this is no bad thing. After all Peter says that they did not have to sell the field or give all the money.  Their sin however, was their action in front of the whole church. Their sin was that they sought to deceive the church. To carry the appearance of being sacrificial, without actually being sacrificial. I'm sure most of us can relate to such a desire. Wanting to appear holy, without the cost of disciplining ourselves toward that. Offering to pray for people in order to appear prayerful, but having little or no desire or intention to actually pray. This is the sort of deception that is being dealt with. This is so serious because falsehood ruins fellowship.

You see that at this point spiritual deception could have been the root of bitterness that grows up and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). If there was a facade going on at to point and people started to mimic it, then there would be no real community of God's people. Why? Because falsehood ruins fellowship. Community is built on openness and honesty.
I wonder if you are honest enough to admit that you have indulged in some behaviour like Ananias and Sapphira? I despair when thinking of the times I have done things to appear more holy than is true. Offering to pray in order to seem godly, but then often forgetting to actually pray.
I wonder what it would take to get us to awaken to this spiritual pride and deception we do buy into. Would we really get it if someone was struck down? Knowing that if we use deception and die, it would not be the first time it has happened. I think we need to get the severity of this. It was not only lying, it was not just satan attacking but this was a sin that could jeopardise the whole community.

So, why the severe punishment?
After all if we are all honest I think we would all admit that we have attempted to deceive others into thinking we are perhaps more godly than is true.
And we have not been struck down? Are we living under a different era? With different rules or with less miraculous signs like these?
Well, none of these actually really answer our question.

Why does this happen?
I mean, is this the first time something like that has happened?

Well it isn't really the first time. I'll show you another shortly.
This all leads on to the second thing to notice
That this Sin punished for the good of the church

The previous one to Think back to is Joshua chapter 7 and we come across the account of Achan.
On the brink of entering the promised land, a crucial point in the life and history of Israel and we meet Achan. He had disobeyed God and taken gold and silver from Jericho. He had it hidden in his tent, he was found out, and to spare the whole community of Israel he was stoned. He was killed for the benefit of all of Gods people. He had put them all at risk at a crucial juncture for their future.

Now we could draw similarities here between money. They both had greed perhaps in mind, they were selfish. But really what we ought to be thinking about in these two accounts is that they are at two of the most significant points for the future of God's people. Entering the promised land (Achan) and the birth and growth of the early church (Ananias and Sapphira).
Two sins that would have consequences for the whole community and they were both punished. It was a sanctifying discipline for the church. We will see what I mean shortly.

The first half of the passage shows us what happens to Ananias but in the second half we see that
Sapphira didn't escape the punishment that her husband received, she too repeated the sin. She too was punished.

Was this harsh?
Perhaps this is the wrong question. we should ask, why did it happen?

The answer, the great truth, the encouragement to us is that it shows God's ferocious commitment to his church, to sustaining it and to growing it.

You see the result of God's act was that it produced fear amongst "all who heard it"
In Verse 5.
And then after Sapphira died
It is not just those who heard of it, but the whole church in Verse 11.
The result is for the whole church. This is the sanctifying discipline for the church.

I could focus from this text on spiritual deception in the church, and it is something to think through and seek to avoid. But I want you to see is that
God has caused the church to know that such deceit could hinder the church.... But as we see throughout the rest of Acts, God will not let it hinder the church, because He is ferociously for his church. He did not let a Root of bitterness cause many to be defiled.

Indeed verse 14 of the same chapter tells us that following this event
"more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,"

So instead
Be encouraged that the church survived despite sin
And that
The church survived and grew because sin was dealt with.

As I finish off writing, be encouraged that despite apparent difficulties and attacks, despite obstacles and sins
Christ's purpose can't and won't be tampered with.
God is ferociously for his church.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Enjoying and Experiencing a Dusty Old Doctrine

The Trinity

Perhaps some of you have heard some of the analogies that have been used to describe the trinity. The shamrock, or the three leaf clover. It has three leaves and one stem...

Or maybe you have heard the analogy of the house. As one guy claimed so enthusiastically that he had worked the trinity out by citing.

Well there are three men. One of them builds a house, the second man buys the house and the third man lives in the house.

That sounds good doesn’t it?
1. The father created us. The first man built the house
2. Jesus died for us, he bought us at a price (1 Corinthians 6.20) he paid for our sin. The second man bought the house
3. The Holy Spirit indwells us, he lives inside us. The third man lives in the house.

Sorted eh?

The shamrock is not helpful really at all.
The second analogy does teach something about the three distinct persons of the trinity. Creator, redeemer and sanctifier.

But what it does not teach is any sort of relationship at all between these three men. It teaches what they do. It does not teach who God is. It may teach what is called the economic trinity(functions) but not the ontological trinity (the nature of the trinity)

Now conceptually the trinity is stretching. I don't claim to fully understand it at a metaphysical level. However, this should not scare us. We cannot understand fully all the mysteries of God.

And Indeed, the trinity is central to the christian understanding of who God is. Of his nature and his character. God did create, God does redeem and He made way for redemption through faith in Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Christ, God does indwell his people granting understanding of His word and sanctifying power through his Spirit.

This does not paint a full picture of who he is though.

Perichoresis is a word commonly used in theological circles to describe the relationship of the trinity. It refers to interpenetrating, mutually indwelling nature of the trinity. Tis is important because the persons of the trinity do not survive or reside or live outside of each other. This tight relationship is fundamental to who God is as revealed by the three persons.

They have relationship with one another.
This is vital for the christian faith.

It is not a musty old doctrine that simply needs affirmed to be considered a proper Christian, yes we may not understand it all at the point of faith, but it is not just a doctrine to try and construct from the bible because if we don't do this we will be outside of orthodox belief. A popular writers take on the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance says:

The trinity "is a spring, and people jumped for thousands of years without it. It was added later. We can take it out and examine it. Discuss it, probe it, question it. It flexes, and it stretches"

His analogy of doctrine is that of a trampoline. Doctrine are the springs that let you bounce and have enjoyment in Christ. But you can take the odd one out and change them etc.

But what I am going to try and point out to you is actually the opposite for the trinity. If you take it out then you will see God collapse around you.

The first point I want to make is at a sort of philosophical level.

1. If God is not trinitarian, if He wasn’t this triune being then there are serious ramifications surrounding creation. Why did he create? Out of what motivation and for what purpose did he create?

Well he created to be worshipped you might say. He created us to worship him in love, but actually if that is true then God needs us. God relies on us, because before us, He was a being that existed but was not all sufficient as He was lacking in relationship and lacking in worship as a deity. You see that if He is not trinity then He is needy. It gives us power over Him, what if we refuse to worship him? And if He is not all powerful do I want to worship Him? If He is a unitarian god or unipersonal then He creates not out of total power, but actually He creates out of need which undermines His very person as being supreme.

Whereas in His nature as trinitarian He has perfect fulfilment. He is worshipped and loved the Father, by the Son and Spirit. The Son by the Father and Spirit. The Spirit by the Father and Son.
So when He creates it was not out of need. Rather it was out of something altogether different.
Which brings me to my next point.

2. The Trinity is important because it means that God above all else is love.
You get all sorts of answers about what is God's main attribute. The truth is that all else flows out of His love. Some will say He is holy, just etc. But He was love before all this as a triune being.
He could not be love if He was not trinity. If He was a uni-personal (as opposed to trinitarian) God, or a God that revealed himself at different times in 3 ways (Modalism) then at his essence He is not love.

Imagine a god who is all alone, powerful, self obsessed... yes you are imaging the devil
Whereas we know God as God the Father. Which means at his essence He is a father and so lavishes love upon His son.

The two elements we looked at then are 1. that God is not needy and lacking in self sufficiency, because He is trinity at his centre.

2.He is love above all else because before He was ever even Creator He was Father loving His Son, through His Spirit.

Indeed He actually created out of the overflow of this love. He didn't need us, but rather He created us to love us and to give out joy. That is the opposite.

An analogy I would like to proffer is the dance.

It is by no means all encompassing, I offer it only to communicate the relationships within the trinity. It has limitations as well.

You see by nature we are all self centered. How we relate with each other is all based on us as being in the centre of the stage of life. Everyone else moves around us. Ok? But what is the problem with that?

Well if I live at the centre of the stage of my life then all of you move around me, but if we are all on stage together then we are all expecting that everyone will move around us and so nobody moves anywhere. We are static

Whereas the trinity is like a dance...

Incase you mistake me for coming up with this idea I will quote from CS Lewis “In christianity God is not a static thing.... but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance”

A dance, amongst the static self obsession that encompasses us all.

And theologian Cornelius Plantinga adds “the persons within God exalt each other, commune with each other, and defer to one another... Each divine person harbours the others at the centre of his being. In constant movement of overture and acceptance, each person envelops and encircles the others... God’s interior life (therefore) overflows with regard for others”

They dance around each other, There is a mutually self giving love. The are filled with joy in each other, they are filled with love for one another. They dance around each other in delight for one another.... and here is a fundamental point.... it is from this, from an overflow of delighting, loving, joyous relationship within the trinity that creation unfolds. God creates because of the relationship in the trinity. As opposed to the unitarian god who creates out of a need to be worshipped or a need to show he is love.

God is so fulfilled in His triune being that He chooses to share His love with others and so creates from love, not need. You see before he created He was Father to the Son, so He was loving before He was ever creator.

Tim Keller asks “if you find somebody you adore, someone for whom you would do anything, and you discover that this person feels the same way about you, does that feel good? It’s sublime! That’s what God has been enjoying for all eternity.”

We can see clearly even in creation that God’s triunity is present. The Father creates through His Word (Jesus is the Word of God) and the Spirit is hovering throughout (Genesis 1:1-2).
Likewise at Jesus' baptism all are present (Mark:1). The Father, who is the voice, the Son who is the word and the dove who is the Spirit.

As Jesus rises out of His baptism we hear the Father says "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." and the spirit is covering Him with power. You see that these three persons, that God in his triunity was present in creation and Mark is pointing us back to this as he reveals what happened in his account. He wants us to have in mind creation because Jesus has now come for the purposes of recreation. He has come to enact the plan of redemption and all are present here too. Just like When Jesus commissions his disciples in Matthew 28 he says go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Now this is key and leads to my next point.

The good news of the trinity must also take us to the point of seeing that in salvation all are present and essential. We may forget this, we may not grasp this but the trinity is present for redemption, it is the plan of the triune God and is enacted, achieved, accomplished and granted by the triune God.

You see we often claim that the trinity is present in how we pray, that it is the best living example of how the trinity affects us. But it isn't. It is a good one, Yes we pray to the father, through the Son who intercedes for us as our great high priest(as in Hebrews 4), and we do this by the prompting of, and in the power of, the Spirit. However, There is a more pertinent example.

1.You see The Father sends the Son, or the Saviour. He, the Father, is active in this, He is also the one who forgives. The father sends and forgives.
2.The Son obediently goes and saves. He is the one who dies in our place paying fully for our sins.

We all probably get this. The most obvious one is the Son, the saviour Jesus.
The Father we can think, ah yes He sent the Son. (As is classically and often wuoted from John3:16). We can also think that it is in front of Him that we do indeed have a debt. So yes He forgives. We can see the Son in salvation and then also the Father.

But if we leave it there, then we leave it at a place where salvation is not accomplished.
3.You see that It is the Spirit who convicts, the Spirit who draws people to the Father to seek repentance. It is the Spirit that reveals ones sin to them, it is the Spirit who point us to Jesus as being our only means to being saved.

It is the Spirit who humbles Himself and indwells us for our sanctification (being set apart and made holy).

The trinity is at work in all of this.

As I said already this doctrine is not something to only intellectually work through and construct as part of our framework. Or to work out a formula and find lots of bible verses to prove it because we know we should. No, it is something to be experienced. In salvation we experience the Father forgiving us, by sending his one son, we see the Son being our saviour, the Son taking our place and facing the punishment of our sin, and we see the Spirit drawing us to this and convicting us of our need for it.

Then once this has happened, we see that the Father adopts us as his children, we see that the we are co-heirs with the Son and He is our righteousness to stand as children of God and we see that the Spirit is present dwelling in us to carry us through to completion, to be active in our sanctification.

This is a doctrine to be gloriously experienced. Not left for the theological academics to argue over the substance of God and how three can be one. We see how three can be one by living in it. This doctrine does not belong on a dusty shelf, it belongs in every day life because if God is not trinity, there is no loving creator, there is no atonement and no hope of ever being holy. We live without hope. It's that simple, that is the trampoline collapsing round us.

The glorious good news is seen in the trinity, it is something that should turn our hearts to worship that the tri-personality of God is active in wooing us, saving us, forgiving us, adopting us, sharing his glory with us and sanctifying us for the consummation of all things.

This is the good news of the trinity.
And how good it is!

Friday, 23 November 2012


This may seem like an oddly titled post, but please stay with me.

In our student bible studies this year we have been taking the students through the gospel of Luke. Last night we came to the penultimate study - The crucifixion and resurrection. It was a wonderfully engaging and encouraging evening.

It also served to remind me of that character in scripture who is perhaps overlooked, and who really gets away with murder.

Barabbas was an insurrectionist, a rebel, a murderer. This was the man the Jews demanded be freed in place of Jesus. They were offered the choice of letting Jesus go free, Jesus whom Pilate had found no fault in, or Barabbas the convicted criminal.

'Barabbas' quite literally means 'son of the father'. So on this gloomy night where Jesus is facing trial, Jesus thee Son of the Father is juxtaposed, put alongside, Barabbas.
Is there a more striking contrast?

In the account in Luke (23:13-25) we see Pilate pronouncing that Jesus is not guilty of any of the charges brought against him. Again he says "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death." 
And so Jesus was delivered over to their will. Jesus was delivered over to face the punishment of a criminal. Jesus was delivered over in place of Barabbas who is let off free from the judgement and punishment he deserved. 

So what was Jesus accused of?

(verse 14 tells us) “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people" - Not guilty

So what was Barabbas accused of? 

(verse 19) Insurrection. - Guilty

Whilst Barabbas was also guilty of murder we can actually see from what they are accused of that all Jesus was accused of, Barabbas was guilty of; A man misleading the people. 

So Jesus takes the place of a man, a man that is guilty of his charges.

Jesus gets punished for charges that are brought against another man. 
This all sounds familiar doesn't it?
Have you heard this before?

Jesus taking the place of someone who is guilty, taking their punishment meaning they go free. They are saved. 

Where would Barabbas have expected to be by the end of Good Friday? Probably dead, is the answer.

We always need to be careful when thinking though that we are a direct duplicate of someone in scripture. As one of my tutor's coined the phrase "we are not Joseph, but we have Joseph's God" so we must ask, are we Barabbas?

There are things that we can definitely see as parallels, so lets examine:

1. Barabbas was a rebel against the Emperor, or the King - we are sinners so we too are rebels against the King. 
2. Barabbas was freed because Jesus instead was punished. Is not this the central tenet of your personal faith? I no longer face the punishment that my sins deserve (and there are many) because Jesus has paid it all, once for all. 
3. Barabbas - son of the father. Now we, when believing in Christ, not only have our sins forgiven but we are adopted as sons/daughters of the Father. (This may be stretching the story somewhat. But I marvel that his name means son of the father.)

However, we know not of any repentance on Barabbas behalf, we know not of much more than we have read here. So we cannot presume to be exactly the same. (When thinking through this question last night and where Barabbas would be on Good Friday and where he ought to have been, the thought crossed my mind - Maybe a matter of weeks, days or hours later Barabbas could have been committing more crimes. This makes me associate with him even more.) 

As a brief conclusion to this post I am going to look at the two criminals on the crosses beside Christ. 

The first one mocked Jesus by asking "are you not the Christ?" Save yourself.... and us. 
The first criminal didn't recognise that his punishment was just. He didn't recognise that he was being punished deservingly for actual crimes he committed. He didn't know Jesus as the Christ. He asks mockingly and shows a bent towards selfishness. Save me. Get me down from here....NOW. 

The second criminal, now he was different altogether. 

1. He corrects the first criminal 
2. He points to fearing God
3. He knows his punishment is deserved. He knows it is just. (thus showing a penitent heart)
4. He knows who Jesus is, he knows Jesus did no wrong
5. His focus is not on physical salvation. He doesn't ask to be let off the cross, he asks to be remembered. 
6. He further displays that he knows Jesus' true identity by asking to be remembered in His Kingdom. A king is not a king unless he has a kingdom, this man knew Jesus' kingdom and longed to be there.

What comes of the second criminal? 

"Today" Jesus says, "you will be with me in paradise"
Today. There is no promise there that his life will be prolonged on earth... but the promise is that TODAY he will be in paradise. And in paradise with Jesus.  


So I have to admit the Barabbas in me. I have to rejoice in the substitution of Jesus into my place, taking punishment for my rebellion against the king. I have to rejoice that I am now Barabbas - son of the Father. 

I look also to the criminal on the cross and rejoice again that as I repent and believe in Jesus as the perfect sacrifice* and as the King of heaven that I will be in paradise with Him on the day of my death. 

Have you realised yet your association with Barabbas? Or are you like the first criminal, do you mock the man that can truly save you? Do you have a hard selfish heart that fails to see you are deserving of punishment? 

I thank God that he sent Jesus, because upon reflecting on these criminals I see that I too am hopelessly lost in my crimes against the King. I am lost too, apart from Christ. 

*Jesus in dying actually brings to an end and fulfils the Old Testament sacrificial system. Every year the holy of holies could be entered into just once. On this day of atonement an animal would be sacrificed being the propitiation for the sins of Israel. The system was insufficient as every year the sacrifice would need made again. The system had two functions. The first was to reveal the sin of Israel and that every year they would be reminded that they kept on sinning. The second was to point to a sacrifice that was sufficient, a perfect sacrifice that would be once for all. Jesus was the sacrifice and also the scapegoat (this would be sent to run off and would carry with it all the sin of Israel). Jesus was the perfect sacrifice!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Money, Sex, Power, Parties, Pleasure, Legacy and Solomon

I have been pondering this post for a while. I have been pondering it long and hard because I think it is at the very heart of how we live life and why we pursue what we do.

Along the way to writing this I have had friends tell me of the struggles they have with faith, with believing in Christ. Friends who were once firm in their faith and are now less so and others who question if it is a pursuit worthy of our lives. I humbly seek to examine this here. To think through the benefit of the christian life. To think through the point of pleasure in life.

Blaise Pascal wrote
"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves"

We all seek happiness. That is true. We want pleasure, joy and satisfaction. We want to be happy. To not suffer pain, hardship, poverty and oppression.

Luther and Edwards argued that in fact the will is in bondage.
No matter how much we protest to have free will, when we boil it down we don't. Our will is constrained. We make decisions based on what benefits us. We wash the dishes for our parents because we do not want moaned at and complained at. We are hindered in how we act by self-preservation and the want to be happy. Do you know anyone who wants to be unhappy? (If you did then I would say that if they wanted to be unhappy and they were unhappy then by definition they are happy in their unhappiness, and if they are not unhappy but desire to be so, they must then be happy).

I spoke at a lunch bar at a Universtiy CU last week. My topic was "isn't the bible just myth?" Asides from providing some historical and manuscripts evidence as to why it is not I also made my final point by saying that, the reason for not believing will not be satisfied no matter how brilliant my answers were. But the real issue is that people think that believing will inhibit their happiness. Happiness can be found in drink, in sex, in money and success.

Can it?
I mean really?
What happens when the alcohol wears off? When you fall out with your sexual partner, or even when they no longer satisfy? What happens when you have more money than you could ever spend? Do you ever stop wanting more? What will you do, buy another car? Even the greatest party on earth cannot satisfy us wholly. Leaving a legacy that is huge and wonderful doesn't stop us dying.

Let's look at king Solomon.
One of the ancient kings of Israel.

King Solomon who was known for his profound wisdom. Who was wealthy beyond belief. Who had 700 wives (that is not a typo) besides some 300 mistresses. Who through parties like we can only imagine. Parties for upto 20000 people. Who built mansions, forests, parks and massive pools to water them (the pools of Solomon). Plus did I mention he was a king? So he was pretty powerful.

Let's look at his Parties: 
“(1 Kings 4) "Solomon's provision for one day was thirty cors of fine flour (over 200 litres) and sixty cors of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides (100) deer, (100) gazelles, (100) roebucks, and (100) fattened fowl.”

His provision for one day... I know he has a lot of wives but this party is mental and this was just one days provision. No matter how good a party you have been to, it cannot compete with this. I little party in your house, or at a friends with a bring your own booze is nothing compared to Solomon's party. No matter which night club you have partied in it cannot compete for splendour and playful frivolities. Solomon's parties literally went down in history. 

He had 700 wives, that is two for each day of the year, plus 300 concubines (or mistresses). This guy partied big and also would have no sexual desire unquenched. He would have made Hugh Heffner look like an amateur. (Imagine inviting Solomon to a wedding, would he get a plus one?)
This guy would have left no stone unturned. 
He also went after legacy building (Ecclesiastes 2)
"I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.  I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees"
So long after he was gone Solomon knew he would be remembered. He built mansions planted vineyards made national parks and forests, plus massive pools to water them. This guy had ambition he lived longing after every pleasure and made sure his legacy continued.
He was king, he was wealthy beyond compare (for example the mansions, the provisions for his parties plus all the woman).

Solomon did it all. So he sought after pleasure in everything you can imagine. You think you have experienced pleasure in all these things? Solomon did to far greater degree. And because you think the bible would not permit these things, it clearly affects our happiness and so we don't believe. The want for pleasure drives us away from the bible. Our desires for pleasure are too strong we want pleasure so we desire to sin, so to stick to the bible would kill our pleasure.
But Solomon did it to a degree to which we can only dream of and what does he say? (surely he is worth listening to)

"Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."

There was pleasure (that is not denied) but it was momentary it didn't last. He did things on the largest scale and said the pleasure was fleeting. It was vanity, meaningless, a gust of wind....(Hebrew word heḇel). 
So I ask, have you started to be dissatisfied with that which the world offers as pleasure?

What does Solomon say of this pursuit in life? 
Pointless. it doesn't last. The toil was not worth it. 

C.S Lewis said, and I think it is in agreement with Solomon,
“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

So if we truly seek happiness, if we truly want joy and pleasure then it is not that our desires are too strong to keep to the bible, but actually they are too weak. 
Too weak?
YES, too weak. Much too weak. Why? because when we look to drink, sex and ambition; Money, sex and power; Parties, pleasure and legacy we settle for a temporary joy. One that is fleeting. One that doesn't last. 

If our desires were strong enough then we would instantly look to the Lord, the gospels, the bible and to grace and forgiveness for joy. INFINITE JOY. 

Instead we are half-hearted creatures. All of us. Even those who know and love Jesus. Our hearts drift from him for joy and onto the pleasures offered us here and now by the enemy. We settle because of our half heartedness and because it seems easier, but mainly just because our hearts our not captivated by the awesome glory of the grace of God. 

He offers infinite joy - A holiday at the sea.

We settle for mud pies. 

I urge those struggling, and those who are not both, that in any pursuit of happiness listen to Solomon about the things this world offers... meaningless. 

Listen to Lewis - Infinite Joy is offered. 

How easily we (I include myself) forget this.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Moralism, The Gospel and a Dirty Rose: The Gospel Explicitly

I am going to be using a rather large extract from a book to start this off. I will try to cut out as much as the small details as possible but I think it is an important reference.
The book is Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel.
It is taken from the concluding chapter (pg 203-222) entitled Moralism and The Cross 
 Here it is: (Page 205-209)

"The feeling became great that something big was really off in the church. This feeling came to a head in my first year of college. I attended a small Baptist college in Abilene in west Texas, and upon my arrival there, I had to sign up for a fine arts course. I'll be straight with you: I'm not a fine arts kind of guy, so I really didn't know what to do....
          I chose to take a drama class. In my drama class, I met a woman who had lived in that area her entire life and was trying to get her life back on track. She was several years older than me, already had a child, and was working at a bar. She was not a church person and had no church background. But what she did have was a dry, sarcastic humour that I thought was brilliant. When you're in a drama class that's weird to begin with, and your professor says, "Be a tree. No, be a tree with motion. No, be an angry tree, "and you have to act out these things, having someone around with a sarcastic sense of humour was a bit of fresh air. So Kim and I hit it off. We laughed a lot, and I began to try to share the gospel with her and to teach her about Jesus's love. I prayed a lot and longed to see her come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Along with a couple of friends, I began serving and encouraging her. We invited her to join us at get-togethers, and when she had to go to work sometimes we would watch her daughter for her.
         In the middle of all that, a friend of mine was to do a concert .... I invited Kim to come along. This was not just a concert; the actual concert didn't actually begin until after the performer led worship at this True Love Waits rally. It's funny, looking back on it now, and I am grateful for the train wreck that occurred, because it changed the way I saw how to present biblical truth to people and how to proclaim holiness in the light of the cross of Jesus. That night, I thought hopefully to myself, "Kim's here, and this guy is going to preach. Maybe this will be how God saves Kim through all this work that we've done in loving her, encouraging her, and walking with her."
         The preacher took the stage, and disaster ensued. I don't know how else to describe the sermon. There was very little Bible in it. He gave us a lot of statistics about STDs. There was a lot, "you don't want syphilis, do you?" and, "It's all fun and games until you have herpes on your lip." And in the middle of all this moralistic fearmongering, his big illustration was to take out a single red rose. He smelled the rose dramatically on stage, caressed its petals, and talked about how beautiful this rose was and how it had been fresh cut that day. In fact, he said, it was such a beautiful rose that he wanted all of us to see and smell it. So he threw the rose out into the crowd, and he encouraged everyone to pass it around.... As he neared the end of his message, he asked for the rose back. And, of course, when he got it back in his hands, it was broken and drooping, and the petals were falling off. He held up this now-ugly rose for all to see. And his big finish was this: "Now who in the world would want this? Who would want this rose now? Would you be proud of this rose? Is this rose lovely?" His words and his tone were merciless.
         I was such and idiot, because during all that, I'd been praying that Kim was listening. I was praying that Kim would really hear what the preacher was saying about this dirty rose. But there was no real climax to the message. His essential message, which was supposed to represent Jesus's message to a world of sinners, was this: "Hey, don't be a dirty rose."
         This approach was dramatically effective in producing shame but not really effective in producing hope*. On the way home, Kim was quiet, even though we talked about the concert and what had gone on. I asked her on multiple occasions if everything was okay, if she was all right, and what she thought of the message. Throughout our drive she was quiet, which wasn't like her, but I just thought, naively, that maybe the Holy Spirit was convicting her and that we'd talk about it later and she would tell me she was a new creation.
         Kim continued to act strangely around me for a while. About a week or two later, Kim didn't show up for class. She didn't show up for class for a week. I called and left several messages but couldn't get hold of her. After about three weeks, I began to get nervous. I wondered if she had dropped out of school. She had a dark past, and I wondered if she had fallen back into some of her old habits. Then I got a phone call from a woman who claimed to be Kim's mum. Kim had been in an accident and had been in the hospital right across the street from the university. So I hung up the phone with her mum, and I walked over to her hospital room. She was all bandaged up, and her face was still swollen. She had fallen out of a car that was going 70 MPH and had struck her head on the concrete and fractured her skull. The swelling wasn't so extensive as to cause long-term damage, but it did cause enough damage to keep her hospitalized for several weeks.
           In the middle of our conversation, seemingly out of nowhere, she asked me, "Do you think I'm a dirty rose?" My heart sank inside of me, and I began to explain to her that the whole weight of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus wants the rose! It's Jesus's desire to save, redeem, and restore the dirty rose.
           Sealed in my heart that day was the truth that unless the gospel is made explicit, unless we clearly articulate that our righteousness is imputed to us by Jesus Christ, that on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God aimed at us and washed us all clean - even if we preach biblical words on obeying God - people will believe that Jesus's message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.
           But the problem is deeper than that and more pervasive. If we don't make sure the gospel is explicit, if we don't put up the cross and the perfect life of Jesus Christ as our hope, then people can get confused and say, "Yes, I believe in Jesus. I want to be saved. I want to be justified by God," but then begin attempting to earn his salvation. By taking the cross out of the functional equation, moral therapeutic deism** promotes the wrong-headed idea that God probably needs our help in the work of justification and most certainly needs us to carry the weight of our sanctification, as well. The result is innumerable Christians suffering under the burden of the law's curse because they have not been led to see that gospel-centred living is the only way to delight in the law."

*Emphasis added
** This is essentially the proper term for those who believe in some sort of god out there somewhere, and that he wants us to be good and nice, that being good gets you to heaven, that god doesn't interfere unless to help in crisis times, that self esteem is important and we have real self worth and our purpose is to be happy and feel good.

I wonder if you recognize or can sympathize with what is being talked about here. Perhaps you are one of the innumerable who suffer under the burden of the law's curse, or one of those who feels shame and not hope.
Conversely, I wonder if you can see the presentation of the gospel that you attempt in this. Perhaps you too have been trying to share Jesus with a friend over a long period of time. Maybe you brought them to church and were trying to get them to hear the gospel and they never responded.
Perhaps this was because the gospel is too often assumed.
The context in which we find ourselves is important and we must attempt to understand it. My context is heavily influenced with people who have grown up around church and have known church etc. This leads to preaching, teaching and thinking that assumes knowledge of the gospel.
In this context it is reasonable then to preach how God wants people to live.
Or is it?
If we assume the nature and character of God, assume that everyone has some awareness of it and assume the same about the gospel and how to be saved and Jesus' work on the cross then it is dangerous.
It is dangerous because if it is taken for granted then it drifts further and further back in our proclamation of Jesus' teachings.
The reality is that the more this happens and the more people hear how to live.
The more they hear that Christians shouldn't: get drunk, date non-christians, gamble, swear, lie, cheat, have sex, chase women, watch porn/think indecently, watch violent/crude/lewd/nude/ films and listen to explicit music
and that they should: always go to church, pray all the time, read the bible for hours a day, listen to christian music, read christian books, dress modestly, try to tell their friends (and anyone who will listen, and even plenty who won't) about God and do good deeds for people.

If this is what people are taught is the heart and root of christianity then we have all failed. We have failed because firstly there are things on this list we have all slipped up in. But mainly we fail because if this is how the gospel is known to people then it is disastrous.
It is a list of good living. A list that at some point we fail in. We can't keep all these things forever, and for some, even daily.

I wonder how many of our friends know our faith to resemble something like this.
I wonder how many of them think us arrogant and self-righteous because we try to judge them or communicate to them that they should live like this.
Is that what we want in sharing the gospel?

I hope not.

The things I have listed, largely, are not bad things to try and do. However, if we turn them into saving things, things that make us right in God's eyes and the things we teach our friends then they become destructive things.
Chandler goes on to say:
"Let's be careful to preach the dos and don'ts of Scripture in the shadow of the cross's "Done!"" 

Do we preach how to live... yes
Should we try to live a holy life ... yes

BUT we ought to communicate these things under the glorious umbrella of truth that is the cross of Jesus Christ.
The umbrella that says:
1. We are sinners
2. Because of God's great love he sent his son, his only son, who lived perfectly overcoming every temptation, who was despised and rejected, beaten and crucified, taking all of our sin: past, present and future.
3. Having died and taken the sin of the world on his shoulders he rose and conquered sin and death.
4. We can now be reconciled to God, through the Son and have the Spirit indwell us.
5. This reconciliation is through faith in, and union with, Jesus Christ. It costs nothing to obtain but places a call to be faithful to Christ for the rest of one's life.

The dos and don'ts are not part of our justification (being saved). The only thing important in our justification is Jesus, his work and our faith in Him.

However, the call, the response of this faith is to become holy.
Our salvation is God's work. He sent his son. He calls us. He awakens us, through His Spirit, to the truth of Jesus. In reconciling us He is also bringing us into His family. To share, as sons and daughters, in the blessing achieved by Jesus.
Duly now we have been freed from the curse of the law. Now that we have become righteous, through Jesus, we are freed to follow Him.

Our following Him is not our justification. It is our sanctification (becoming holy). Sanctification is only possible on: the grounds, the basis, as a result and by the power of Christ's sacrifice on the cross as our means of redemption. We partner with God in striving to be holy, but we do this by the strength produced by grace and the gospel.

Until we know that we have been justified, made right with God and become righteous, not in and of ourselves but by Jesus' perfect righteousness being imputed to us, then can we succeed in partnering God for the advance of our sanctification. Not until we know that our actions count for nothing regarding our justification, but that whilst we were sinners, Christ died for us. And now as we still sin, Christ covers these sins and we are righteous before God.
This is vital in the gospel we proclaim. If we lead with, or make central, the call of obedience to follow Jesus and his ways then we risk skewing the gospel to make people think it is all about being good. We cannot leave this out. Any claim of gospel proclamation must have this included. It may sound very individualistic but creation is being redeemed as people are being redeemed.

Please I urge as we share the gospel, as we tell friends and colleagues about Jesus; we need to tell them first and foremost of sin, grace, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation before ever sharing a moralistic, good living, self righteous list of dos and don'ts.
We need to be explicit about the gospel. Hoping they notice that we live 'good lives', that we try to be honest and have integrity, not get drunk, don't have sex etc. is not enough. How will people know of Jesus' costly crucifixion, his redeeming and righteousness giving resurrection and his glorious grace if we do not make it explicit in how we share it.
At some point we have to move past trying to make people think that Christians are not weird, that they can be normal and even 'cool' people. At some point we need to move past having a pint with them to show alcohol, in moderation, is ok. At some point we need to show the depth of love we have for our friends by actually telling them about Jesus even if it risks their scorn. We need to tell them explicitly of the glorious, life giving, freedom generating, hope preserving, joy producing gospel of Jesus Christ.

This in some way is the introduction to a mini series I plan to do over the summer. It will include blogs on at least:
Sin and depravity: Understanding our worth in an age of 'Self-Esteem'
The Curse on Christ at the Cross
Saved by Faith Alone: The Faith that Saves is Never Alone