Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Forgiveness and the Justice of God

Have you ever considered that God's justice requires your forgiveness? This may sound strange since forgiveness is mercy and not justice. How can God's justice require I am forgiven? Well, if you are united to Christ through faith, then your sins have been paid for. Jesus is the propitiation (satisfaction of God's wrath) for all your sins (1 John 2:2). This is how John can say, "If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)." God's justice has already been satisfied on Christ so it would be unjust of God to now satisfy his justice against all those in Christ! Have you considered what this means? This means your forgiveness is inextricably tied to the righteousness of God! If God fails to forgive you, God is unrighteous. Is there any more secure ground for your forgiveness than the righteousness of God?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Fall

I started our Bible storyline of creation by emphasizing that God created all things and is the Sovereign King over all things for His glory. He created us to be God’s people living in God’s presence under God’s rule and blessing. This is what we call being in the kingdom of God. Adam and Eve were in God’s kingdom, as God’s people, in God’s place or presence (the Garden), under God’s rule and blessing. As a result, they were at rest or peace. They had a good relationship with God, with others, and with the creation. However, the incredible creation of God has been corrupted by sin. It was corrupted by the Fall. As a result, man is no longer in God’s kingdom---he is not God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.

We find the story of the Fall in Genesis 3:1-6. Satan starts with a half-truth and questions God’s Word. After being properly corrected, Satan tells a flat lie. Satan tempts Adam and Eve with the promise they will know good and evil. And they will know evil in that they will participate in it. God knows evil in that it is the opposite of all He is. He abhors it. Satan also tempts Adam and Eve with the promise of being like God---self-exaltation. Eve was deceived. She thought it would make her wise and her lusts got the best of her (1 Timothy 2:14). Adam was flat out rebellious. He was in the garden, with all God’s good gifts around and he thought I will disobey God and eat from that tree. We are told that as a result of this sin everything changed!

So what all changed? There were 3 relationships effected by the Fall: our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and our relationship with creation.

Our Relationship with God

When sin entered the world we were lost or alienated from God’s presence. We are no longer the people of God in the presence of God under the rule and blessing of God. We are no longer in God’s kingdom. Certainly, God is still ruling this earth but to be in His kingdom in the biblical sense is to be his people, in his presence, under his rule and blessing. This is perhaps the worst part of our spiritual condition because we lose the joy of knowing and being in the presence of God, we are in a state of eternal separation from God, we lose him as our treasure. There are at least 12 effects of the Fall on our relationship with God:

1. We are unable to do any spiritual good or truly seek God.

Rom. 3:10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

Rom. 3:11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.

Rom. 3:12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

This is not a reference to our ability to be good in relation to other men, but in relation to God. God can no longer look at man and give the moral judgment “very good.” We were made to reflect His glory---we were made to bear His image---to reflect his holy character back to Him. As sinners, we are now a walking lie.

2. We are those without spiritual understanding.

1Cor. 2:14 ¶ The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

This is not a reference to our ability to understand anything. We are unable to understand things pertaining to God---we cannot really know Him. We can try to seek him on our own but we are just groping in the dark.

3. We are those who suffer shame. (Genesis 3:7, 3:10 cf. 2:25)

Adam and Eve attempted to over cover themselves for shame. How do we try to cover-up? What are our fig leaves? We try to cover up our sin by hiding it, lying about it, or minimizing it. We also cover up by talking about sin corporately, rather than personally. We say things like, “all people look at pornography,” to avoid saying, “I looked at pornography.” We cover up by assuming enough time has passed to make our sin go away. We cover up by assuming everyone does it, so I don’t have to feel too bad.

4. We are those who are now hiding in fear. (Genesis 3:8-10)

How do we hide from God? We hide behind intellectual arguments against the existence of God or behind some conception of God in our imagination---that He is not holy and angry about sin. We hide behind busy schedules and the noise of life. We hide behind excuses that others are keeping us from God.

5. We are those who are now experiencing guilt and tend to blame-shift. (Genesis 3:11-13)

We feel guilt because we are guilty. We don’t like to feel guilt so we either minimize our sin, or, most frequently, we find someone to blame. It is the fault of our parents, or spouse, or children, or church, or government. “The man is keeping me down.” We are just like Adam and Eve, saying to God, “It is this wife, or husband, or parents you gave me.”

6. We are faithless and unbelieving as Adam and Eve were and as Cain was.

7. We are prideful and decide we know better than God just as Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God.

8. We are disobedient and rebel against God just as Adam and Eve rebelled against God.

9. We are idolatrous and give glory to other people or things, especially ourselves, because we want to be “like God.”

10. We are lustful and driven by passionate desires for something just as Eve when she saw that the fruit looked desirable.

11. We are liars just as the serpent in the Garden was.

12. We are filled with ingratitude and do not give God thanks for what we have, but desire something more.

Our Relationship with One Another

In Genesis 3:16, we are told there will be strife between the man and the woman due to the curse. There is a role reversal. The woman desires to dominate the man and the man no longer lovingly leads. Instead of a marriage of where the husband humbly and lovingly leads his wife as she joyfully and humbly submits, marriage is degraded to constant conflict between a wife and her husband. This social conflict shows up in all human relationships. We see it first with Cain and Able, but it continues to show up in Genesis 6 and 9 with murder being discussed.

Our relationship with Creation

The curse of the Fall also includes physical ramifications. There is pain and suffering through child-bearing and through hard work and toil (Genesis 3:16, 17-19). Ultimately there is physical death as man is swallowed up by earth (Gen 2:17, 3:19 cf. 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27).

The Fall of the created order left man in a desperate and terrible condition. He is without God and without hope in the world. If I left you there at the Fall, you would be tempted to either despair and say “forget it, I may as well run after my sin,” or, try to clean up your act and assert your own righteousness. Either way, you would be missing the Gospel---the good news! You would be missing Jesus!

A couple of years ago, I sat at high school graduations and I saw people who were lost all around me. I saw students and teachers and administrators and parents (1000’s of people). And, I realized that when I get up to speak to these crowds I will breaking the law if I say the one word they all need to hear. I thought about saying it. I wanted to say it. But, I did not want the district to suffer a lawsuit if I did. So, I did the “mature and responsible” thing and kept my mouth shut. I kept from them the one name that they needed to hear. I joined the chorus of voices that told them to go out there into the world and try hard! I knew this was going to be the case, and I sat there thinking how crazy is it, how indicative of the Fall is it, that in our society “JESUS” is the one word it is illegal for public officials to say to students! Yet, what people need to hear is Jesus! They need to hear of their only hope out of their spiritual death and lostness. They need to hear the gospel. Jesus is our only hope out of the fallen mess we are in. We do not despair and we do not try to clean things up ourselves, because we have Jesus!

The Fall brings unrighteousness, Jesus is our righteousness!

The Fall brings us spiritual ignorance, Jesus is our Wisdom!

The Fall makes us lost, Jesus seeks and saves the lost!

The Fall makes us guilty, Jesus takes our guilt upon himself!

The Fall leaves us naked and ashamed, Jesus is our covering!

The Fall leaves us fearful of God, Jesus reconciles us to God and gives us boldness to approach the throne!

The Fall leaves us faithless, Jesus is our Faithfulness!

The Fall leaves us full of pride, Jesus humbled himself!

The Fall leaves us in disobedience, Jesus was obedient even to death on a Cross!

The Fall leaves us as idolaters, Jesus glorified only the Father!

The Fall leaves us in lust, Jesus was tempted in every way, yet without sin!

The Fall leaves us in our lying, Jesus is the truth!

The Fall leaves us in broken relationships and conflict, Jesus is our peace!

The Fall leaves us in racism and social strife, Jesus makes one new man!

The Fall leaves us in pain and suffering, Jesus suffered for us and is the ultimate healer who will restore all things!

The Fall leaves us to physical death, Jesus is our resurrection!

The Fall leaves us blind, Jesus opens our eyes!

The Fall leaves us deaf, Jesus gives us ears to hear!

The Fall leaves us hard-hearted, Jesus gives us new hearts!

The Fall leaves us in slavery to sin, Jesus gives us freedom!

The Fall leaves us in darkness, Jesus is the light of the world!

The Fall leaves us groping for treasure in this world---and awaiting certain eternal punishment, Jesus is our treasure and our eternal reward!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In the Beginning God...

In the Beginning God…

Genesis 1-2

As we begin to unfold the story of the Bible, we must start with the beginning. The Bible gives us the story of the beginning of the story of creation in Genesis 1-2. It tells us how we were God’s people (Adam and Eve) living in God’s place (The Garden) under God’s rule and blessing (perfect rest and harmony with God, one another, and the Creation). This is the 1st chapter you might say in the great story of God’s grand story. Interestingly, these 2 chapters and the final 2 chapters of Revelation are the only 4 chapters of the Bible where sin and death are not present. So, you might say that the whole Bible is bracketed by the story of the original perfect creation and the finally restored and perfect new creation. As we look at Genesis 1-2, I want us to focus on 3 primary lessons we learn about the storyline of the Bible.

  1. God is the King who created everything for his own glory.
  2. God’s image bearers are the pinnacle of creation.
  3. God’s rest is the goal of creation.

God is the King who created everything for his own glory.

We learn at least 3 truths about God from the story of Creation in Genesis 1-2:

God is Separate and distinct from (transcendence) yet related to and with His Creation (imminence).

Transcendence is shown by how he speaks the universe into existence (out of nothing) through just speaking it. He is separate from and above His creation. He is not like the gods of eastern religions who are part of the creation. He creates everything by the word of His power, and it all points to Him but he is not to be confused with it. He is not a God who needs man. He is a God who is in an eternally satisfying relationship within Himself. We call this the Trinity and we see this at work even in Genesis 1:1-2 (see also John 1:1-3). God is not “the big man upstairs.” We must stop lowering him, and making him altogether like us. We are made in God’s image. He is not made in our image! We do not have the freedom to say, “My God is this kind of God…” As if we have a designer God. God is God. He is wholly transcendent and separate from His creation.

He has revealed Himself through creation and most fully through His Word. He is a God who wants to be known and even described, thus why He gave His Word. But, just because we can describe him through his Word does not mean we can circumscribe Him. It does not mean we know everything. We can understand Him, otherwise He would not speak to us expecting us to understand Him. However, we cannot understand him exhaustively! When Job wonders why God has dealt with him by allowing his children to die, and by allowing him to lose everything, and suffer physical pain, God responded, “Job, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” God wants Job, and us, to understand that He is God and we are not!

However, this does not mean God is distant and uncaring. God is not uninvolved with His creation either. He is not the God of deism, who wound up creation and sat back to watch it. He is the God who is intimately related to and involved with His creation. He is imminent. We see this through how he speaks to His creation. While God’s speech shows us his transcendence and sovereignty. It also shows us his intimate relationship with His creation! God intimately relates to His creation through his word. He relates to his created universe by His Word (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). He relates to man by His Word (Gen. 1:28, 29; 2:16, 18). Even his image bearers relate to one another through “word”. (Gen. 2:23).

Do you understand the implications of this? You have a powerful God, who is altogether different from you but who desires to be intimately related to you! He is the God who wants to communicate with you and thus gave you His Word. He is the God who is not far from you but who is always there. He is the God who loves His people and who if you draw near to God he will draw near to you. He is the God who will help you. Call on Him to help you.

God is the Sovereign King over his creation.

We see God’s sovereignty and his rule through the manner in which everything obeys his Word. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God spoke and the universe leapt into existence! Therein is power and sovereignty. God ordered everything. There was no one commanding him. He did not ask anyone’s advice or permission. He created it all and he owns it all. He is the King!

We even see God’s rule in a partial answer of what it means to be made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27-28). Man is not only commanded by God what to do but he is, as an image bearer of God, given dominion or rule over the earth. To rule is to be like God. God even sets down a law for man in Genesis 2:16-17.

People will object and ask how we can counsel people in suffering if we have such a strong view of God’s Sovereignty. They say, “Well, if someone’s child dies, and God is Sovereign over that, then what do you tell them? Do you tell them this was God’s plan? How is that helpful?” First, let me say the answer is, yes, God planned it. Psalm 139 says he numbered are days before there was yet one of them. But, let me ask the counter question to this. If your child dies, and God is not Sovereign over that, then who is? Was God taken by surprise? Did he not care enough to intervene? Was it because you were totally irresponsible parents, or your child was completely irresponsible? Is this completely out of God’s hands and thus he is helpless to bring good from it? I guess this must be true if God is not Sovereign but I am not sure how that counsel is more comforting.

When the 5 year old daughter of Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman died. She was accidentally run over in the drive way by her older teenaged brother. What do we tell them? Is the brother responsible for the accidental death of his sister, in the sense that he was driving the car? Yes. Was God surprised? No. On the blog dedicated to their daughter they talked of how they just celebrated her 5th birthday 10 days before this incident. They say the following, “…These words are unthinkable to type. And yet we trust in a God who was not surprised by this and because of Jesus I am certain through faith in Him we will see Maria again.”

God’s glory is the purpose of His creation.

Why did God create everything?

Psa. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psa. 19:2 Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

God did everything to bring fame to His own Name. He did it all to show He is glorious. To display His unsurpassed character and attributes. This gives me great hope. Why? Because my good is grounded in God’s glory! God created, ultimately, to show the riches of his glory---His goodness and His grace to the objects of His mercy! As those who believe in Jesus Christ we are the objects of His mercy! Everything was created so that he might show us how glorious He is! Romans 9:22-23 addresses this,

Rom. 9:22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,

Rom. 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

My eternal destiny is as certain and secure as God’s desire to bring glory to His own Name is! You want security? You want assurance? There it is! It is found in God’s jealous desire to make His own glory known to us in His Son!

God’s image bearers are the pinnacle of creation

Not only do we learn that God is the King who created everything for His own glory from the creation account, we also learn that God’s image bearers are the pinnacle of creation (Genesis 1:26-27). Now, while we are a central figure in Scripture, we are just not the central figure in Scripture God, in Jesus, is the central figure of Scripture. This does not mean man is unimportant. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation in the material universe. Arguably everything was created the way it was to serve the needs of man. God created us and gave us rule over all the earth. When God created everything and declared it good it is not until God creates man that he says, “it is very good.” Why? Why are we so important? Because we are His image bearers. In other words, we are created as those who reflect the image of God. So while the rest of creation certainly bring Him glory, nothing brings Him the glory of man properly reflecting His glory. We are created to be like Him in many ways. First, we are like Him in our ability to rule and reign (Gen. 1:28). God has given us dominion over his creation and over people in various relationships---and we are supposed to rule lovingly as he does. Second, we are like Him in our ability to have relationships (Gen. 2:18) God is not alone. He has been in relationship with Himself eternally. He has designed us so that we would not be alone but would be in relationships. This is why he saves us into a community called the church, which is essential to our growth. Third, we are like Him in our ability to make moral decisions (Gen. 2:16-17). No other creature can analyze the morality of a decision prior to making it. God doesn’t give a law to animals. They do not sin and they do not have a Savior.

This is why human life is so precious and why God instituted the death penalty for anyone who would dare take the life of a man. In the death penalty God is affirming the seriousness of murdering a person and the value of human life. This is why we fight against anything that mars or destroys the image of God. Our culture has thrown out God, is it any surprise we are now destroying His image?

  • We abort millions of babies every year, killing the image of God.
  • We pervert sex, which was given to man and woman to bring unity and reflect God’s image, thus perverting God’s image.
  • We participate in divorce, and thus tear apart God’s intention to bear his image through a married couple.
  • We have rampant homosexuality, and now gay marriage, completely perverting God’s image as most fully shown through man and wife.
  • We are participating in genetic experimentation that has frightening ethical implications!

And on and on our perversion and destruction of God’s image goes! What is amazing is how sin has messed up God’s original goal in Creation

God’s goal in creation is “rest”

God’s original goal in creation was that we would have “rest” with Him (Gen. 2:1-3). So, what is meant by rest? Do you notice that the 1st 6 days all have---and there was evening and there was morning---but the 7th does not? This is because God completed his work of creation on the 7th day. I don’t mean God stopped working. God obviously continues to sustain the universe. What I mean is that God stopped creating because it was perfect. He did not need to keep creating. He finished the job and it was perfect.

In Genesis 1, man’s place and role in the created order is just part of a list of many other days of creation. But, in Genesis 2, we get a greater focus on man’s place and role. We learn that God created human beings to live in the perfect creation he had made with Him. They are to work. However, their work is not a burden but a joy. To be in God’s “rest” means to live in the perfect creation as he intended it. It means to live in the creation in which we are God’s people in a completely harmonious relationship with God and one another.

We were to live in God’s place, the Garden, in a perfect and completely harmonious relationship with the creation. We were to live under God’s rule and blessing, with perfect and completely harmonious life that does not include death, conflict, and sin. Yet, we sinned in Adam. We fell.

The good news is we already see themes here in Genesis that are picked up by the Gospel. God created and we ruined it with sin but through Christ God has promised a new creation. A new creation which will restore all things as they were originally intended. A new creation in which we will “rest.” While that promise is future, it is also present. When you trust in Jesus you are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). God brings you to life spiritually and fills you with the Spirit. You are once again God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing.