Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 13

Since this chapter discusses what The Gospel Coalition considers to be the key elements of the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper), there are several key places where the material diverges from a Lutheran-Missouri Synod understanding. As such, I found reading it thought-provoking, so I went back to Luther's Large Catechism to examine more closely the Biblical rationale for why I believe what I believe.

Where TGC and the LC-MS agree:
  • Both Baptism and the Supper give grace to those who partake.
  • The Lord's Supper is only for believers, though most especially to strengthen weak faith.
  • Baptism is a seal that confirms God's ownership of us for our good.
  • The elements are "visible words" of God.
  • We should have a daily habit of "improving our Baptism" - that is, meditating on the gifts received and walking humbly that day and each day with our God.
  • The Lord's Supper attests to our unity as the body of Christ, so holding sin close to us as we come to eat and drink is not acceptable.
Where we digress:
  • TGC holds that there is no promise connected to the waters of Baptism, since water alone cannot convey spiritual life. This is qualified by the statement that "Baptism is God's means not to regenerate or justify us but to confirm his [sic] promise to us, put his [sic] mark on us, and assure us of his [sic] love, all of which serve to increase and strengthen the faith of the believer and thus promote our growth in grace" (p. 241).
  • TGC also holds that Christ is not bodily present in the Supper, since "not one of the . . .narratives focuses our attention" on this aspect (p. 250).
  • Lutherans hold that water baptism, because it is instituted by Christ (Matthew 28:19-20) and connected with God's efficacious name (Isaiah 55:10-11 and Psalm 54:1), does in fact give salvation.
  • Likewise, we also hold that Christ is truly ("real" i.e. bodily) present in the Lord's Supper, since He says, "This is My body. . .this is My blood" and, through Paul, that we participate in His body and blood as we eat and drink the elements.

Gospel as Center: chapter 12

This chapter describes the people of God, Christ's body, the Church.
  • God works through families - husband + wife + children. That is the way He ordained it, and nothing in Scripture espouses a different form. The Church is modeled after and built of copies of this unit, since it bears God's image (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • We as the Church manifest this image of God through unconditional love exhibited and shared, springing from and imitating how He has already loved the whole world unconditionally!
  • Why the family/body language? "To limit the fruit of Christ's work to the salvation of single hearts is to read the Bible through the individualistic lens of our day" (p. 217).
  • Another point for Lutherans especially to consider: "No [spiritual] gift should ever be played down; each represents a mammoth benefaction. . .[gifts] are given by the Holy Spirit in order to be given away, to be lavished on other members of the body for the growth of the body" (p. 219, note Ephesians 4:12).
  • What about outreach? We are to maintain the pure faith without compromise, deny ourselves, and give people not what they want but what they need - the law and the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. We ourselves must never take our eyes off of Christ and His cross.

Gospel as Center: chapter 11

On "The Kingdom of God."
  • What does "kingdom" mean here? It signifies God's authority over both sacred and secular (Luther's right- and left-hand kingdoms), a theme binding the Old and New Testaments together. It is manifested in creation, the Exodus, Israel's and Judah's kings, the prophets, and the person of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
  • How is our identity as Christians shaped by this concept? God's authority redeems us, makes us His own adopted children (with concomitant rights and responsibilities), and spurs us to praise Him through every aspect of our lives.
  • What about the right-left overlap? "The church does not have any juridical authority in the city/state public square, but that does not mean that the church ought to stay on the periphery. The church does have the responsibility to act in mercy and to engage our community with deeds of social justice (see James 1:27)" (pp. 204-5).
  • Loving our neighbor = noticeable in the world because it is the opposite of the natural man's tendency.

Gospel as Center: chapter 10

This chapter, I think, deals very well with its subject, the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is that the Spirit is "a gift of promise, of power, of presence" (p. 171).
  • The Spirit is a person, the parakletos (helper/counselor/advocate in Greek). Attributes may be found in Ephesians 4:30 and Romans 8:27, for starters. He is also God (Hebrews 9:14, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19), proceeding and distinct from the Father and the Son (e.g. 1 Peter 1:2).
  • His work (John 16:7-11) is to convict, convert, apply God's gifts to us, glorify Christ (Word <--> Spirit), sanctify us by the Word's light, equip us with all things needed for life and godliness (if the gift of prophecy is in a person, s/he must weigh each message against Scripture), and promise by sealing us for the resurrection.
  • An amazing thought: "Baptism in the Spirit is something every Christian has experienced because every Christian has been born again and joined to Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit" (pp. 179-80, emphasis mine).
  • Another: "We become what we behold" (p. 184).
  • One closing thought, especially for those with me in the LC-MS to consider: "But just because the work is objective doesn't mean we can't have a subjective experience of it. We ought to pray for an experience of God's love poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5)" (p. 187, emphasis in original).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 9

Justification - what's it all about?
  • What is justification? It's not being made righteous per se, but rather being declared righteous. This is God's legal decision, so it is binding. Also, He does not merely remove the unrighteousness, but He replaces it with a full dose of Jesus Christ's perfect righteousness in each person who receives Him.
  • Why do we need justification? We have broken every single commandment of God, and breaking of but one destroys any perfection we could hope to have.
  • Why is justification the "chief article" of our faith? "There is no hope of salvation without it" (p. 154).
  • Where does it come from? God and His grace - He possesses and originates righteousness. Romans 3 tells us that "God still perserves His righteousness" since He is unlimited (p. 157).
  • Why can we be justified? Jesus lived and died perfectly and applies that perfection to us. "There is no justification without crucifixion" (p. 159). The righteousness is imputed to us - credited to our account; it is both active (fulfilling the law) and passive (dying to pay sin's wages)
  • How are we justified? By faith in Christ, the empty hand that receives His gifts without expectation. Trying works-righteousness is throwing filthy rags in His face.
  • What is the goal of justification? Works that now glorify God because of the motive and ability behind them! And this justification can never depart from us, for God stuck it there.

Gospel as Center: chapter 8

On "Christ's redemption" - definitely of central interest!
  • What sets Christ-centered preaching apart from Jewish, Muslim, or even "cafeteria-Christian" preaching? It is Christ crucified.
  • What is it about Christ crucified? That He loves us purely "because of who He is" (p. 136). It's incomprehensible, yet too good to not be true.
  • We can view Christ's life in terms of His humiliation (God becoming man while remaining fully God, obeying the whole Law for our sake, and suffering and dying the basest of deaths of His own planning) and exaltation (descent into hell to proclaim victory, followed by His resurrection, ascension, and present reigning at God's right hand).
  • All that needs to be demonstrated forensically is that "Jesus had been dead. He was now alive!" (p. 140)
  • All He did, He did in our place - life, obedience (active and passive), death, resurrection, and ascension. Thus our record of sins is erased and replaced with His righteousness. This is, in C. S. Lewis's words, the "Great Exchange."
  • The rock that offends so many is that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. All else is dust.
    • If we do not understand this, we do not understand any of the gospel.
    • If salvation could come by another way, God is wholly unjust.
    • The option of human morality earning heaven contradicts everything in the Scriptures (e.g. John 14:6 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6).
    • Why would the old Adam in any of us want to go to heaven? The preoccupation there is praise and glorification of Jesus Christ, which is anathema to all who do not receive Him by faith.
  • To make Christ our all, we imitate Him - emptying ourselves, and boast not in ourselves but in what He has done.
  • Christ as the center = we worship Him, believe His words, obey His commands, treat God as our Father, further His kingdom, bear our cross, remain in the Church He has instituted, love others, glory in His cross, and rejoice in the promised resurrection!