The Ultimate Difference Between God’s and Man’s Wisdom

John Piper defines this difference:

…the ultimate difference between divine wisdom and human wisdom is this: God’s wisdom has the supremacy of God’s glory as the beginning, middle, and end of it, but man’s wisdom delights in seeing himself as resourceful, self-sufficient, self-determining, and not utterly dependent on God’s free grace. Divine wisdom begins consciously with God (‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,’ Psalm 111:10), is consciously sustained by God, and has the glory of God as its conscious goal. When divine wisdom is revealed to humans, its effect is to humble us and give us the same God-orientation that God himself has.  (The Pleasures of God, 278).

Take-n Past the Outer Courts

Remember that worship song “Take Me Past the Outer Courts”? Not the best worship song in the modern hymn-book. Why? Because it de-values the gospel. I doubt it was intentional, but bad theology nonetheless.

If you are in Christ, free access to the holy place is yours because of Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews unpacks this:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19-22)

New Testament scholar Paul Ellingworth’s comments in The Epistle to the Hebrews on these verses are helpful.

  • The access to God which believers have through Christ is no less close than that which Christ himself has attained.  (p. 517-518)
  • By means of [Christ’s] self-offering, Christ has done perfectly and in reality for us what the levitical high priests did imperfectly and figuratively: he gained access by a new way to the living God, not only for himself, but for all who through him will share God’s life. (p. 521)
  • The readers [of the book of Hebrews] are to seize the opportunity of access to God which Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice have been made possible. (p. 522).

You can confidently seize access to God because of what Jesus has done on your behalf.

Your confidence in prayer never should rest on what you have or haven’t done. If it does your confidence before God will either stem from pride in your spiritual achievements or it will wane and you will seize your latest sin as the barrier between you and the Father.

Your pathway to the Father is only paved by Jesus. “Full assurance of faith” doesn’t come from the “size” of your faith, but from resting in the “size” of the object of faith. Jesus is the perfect high priest who has opened the curtain of access to God by the crucifixion of his flesh. He is faith’s object and his work has given you the privilege of unbridled access to your heavenly Father.

If you trust Jesus, you’ve already been “taken past the outer courts into the holy place.” The question is, will you confidently take what is already yours?

Two Kinds of Men

Seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal sums it up:

There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who believe themselves sinners; the rest, sinners, who believe themselves righteous.  [Pensees]

“Rid of My Disgrace” Book Giveaway

There is a first time for everything.

Over the next few days I will give away a copy of Justin & Lindsey Holcomb’s new book Rid of My Disgrace, which was written “for the many victims of sexual assault, both female and male, to offer accessible, gospel-based help, hope, and healing.”  (p. 13)

My hope is that the person who receives this book is either a pastor, Christian leader, counselor, victim of sexual assault, or a person close to a victim.

The last paragraph of Justin and Lindsey’s introduction unpack the content of the book:

In Rid of My Disgrace, we address the effects of sexual assault with the biblical message of grace and redemption. Jesus responds to your pain and past. Your story does not end with assault. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, despair, pain, and denial. The assault does not define you or have the last word on your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story.

The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace.  (p. 14)

To receive this book, just comment on this particular post by putting your name and email address in the comment. I’ll draw names Friday and ask the winner privately via email for their shipping address.

Unloading the Spirit of Bondage

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his magnificent book Spiritual Depression, writes the following in response to Romans 8:15-17,

…our object in living the Christian life is not simply to attain a certain standard, but is rather to please God because He is our Father–‘the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father’. The slave was not allowed to say ‘Abba’ and that slave spirit does not regard God as Father. He has not realized that He is Father, he regards Him still as a Judge who condemns. But that is wrong. As Christian people we must learn to appropriate by faith the fact that God is our Father. Christ taught us to pray ‘Our Father’. This eternal everlasting God has become our Father and the moment we realize that, everything tends to change. He is our Father and He is always caring for us, He loves us with an everlasting love, He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son into this world and to the Cross to die for our sins. That is our relationship to God and the moment we realize it, it transforms everything. Henceforth my desire is not to keep the law but to please my Father. We know something about that by nature. Filial love, filial reverence, filial fear is so different from that old servile fear. It is based upon the desire to please our father, and the moment we grasp that we lose the spirit of bondage. Our Christian living is not a matter of rules and regulations any longer, but rather our desire to show Him our gratitude for all He has ever done for us. (p. 172)

What Victims Need

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace dispenses grace to the victims of sexual assault through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have sought to give hope to the victims of sexual assault by encouraging them to speak positive self-statements about themselves. The Holcomb’s point out how this strategy short-circuits.

The following quote from their recent book holds true, not just for those suffering from having been sexually abused, but for victims in the widest possible sense:

Tragically, positive self-statements “have more impact on people with low-self-esteem than on people with high self-esteem, and the impact on people with low self-esteem is negative.” The consequences are that positive self-statements are likely to backfire and cause harm for the very people they are meant to benefit–people with low self-esteem.

What victims need are not self-produced positive statements but God’s statements about his response to their pain. How can you be rid of these dysfunctional emotions and their effects? How can you be rid of your disgrace? God’s grace to you dismantles the beliefs that give disgrace life. Grace re-creates what violence destroyed.  Martin Luther writes that “the love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.” One-way love is the change agent you need. Grace transforms and heals; and healing comes by hearing God’s statements to you, not speaking your own statements to yourself.  (p. 45)

God’s word to you is more powerful than any kind of word to yourself. No matter what kind of a victim you are–be it from some kind of abuse or fraud or oppressive sin by another of any kind–God’s gracious word to you in the Scriptures and in His Son is always better than any self-statement you could generate about yourself.

Self-affirmation never goes deep enough to transform. The hope it kindles is too small because it is confined by self. On the other hand, the gift of the God of the universe redeeming you through the work of Jesus and making you his beloved child goes farther than self-affirmation ever would. Being for yourself is one thing, but God being for you is another thing altogether.

God’s revelation is infinitely more liberating than self-pronouncements. If you’re a victim go to the Scriptures and go to Jesus to find the healing that you really need.

Shy About the Atonement: Don’t Preach

Early twentieth-century Scottish preacher and theologian, James Denney, boldly wrote,

…no man will so preach as to leave the impression that he has the Word of God behind him if he is inwardly at war with the idea of atonement, constantly engaged in minimizing it or maintaining an attitude of reserve, or even of self-defence, in relation to it. We may take it or leave it, but it is idle to attempt to propagate Christian religion on the basis and with the authority of the New Testament, unless we have welcomed it with our whole heart.  (The Death of Christ, 157-158)

James Davison Hunter, Negative Christian Politics, and Gospel *Pro*clamation

James Davison Hunter, University of Virginia’s Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory, analyzes the merging of American/Christian culture and the tragedy of Christian negation,

With the conflation of the history and identity of America with the life and mission of the Church (for the Right and the Left), there is a fundamental distortion of theological truth and historical reality….With the reduction of the public to the political and the subsequent politicization of so much of human experience, there is an accomadation to the spirit of the age that has made politics the dominant witness of the church to the world. And then there is Christianity’s embrace of certain key characteristics of contemporary political culture, a culture that privileges injury and grievance, valorizes speech-acts of negation, and legitimates the will to power. There is variation throughout the Christian community, of course, and yet the loudest public voices are all implicated in this in distinct ways. The problem, though, is especially acute for Christian conservatives…

…key leaders and factions within American Christianity have cultivated collective identities that are constituted in distinct ways by a sense of injury to the faith and to America itself…an identity rooted in resentment and hostility is an inherently weak identity precisely because it is established negatively, by accentuating the boundaries between insiders and outsiders and the wrongs done by those outsiders.

…rather than being defined by its cultural achievenments, its intellectual and artistic vitality, its service to the needs of others, Christianity is defined to the outside world by its rhetoric of resentment and the ambitions of will in opposition to others…

…but is the kingdom of God to be known predominantly by its negations?

The tragedy is that in the name of resisting the internal deterioration of faith and the corruption of the world around them, many Christians and Christian conservatives most significantly–unwittingly embrace some of the most corrosive aspects of the cultural disintegration they decry. By nurturing its resentments, sustaining them through a discourse of negation toward outsiders, and in cases, pursuing their will to power, they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.  (To Change the World, 173, 174, 175)

What is the answer to this constant attitude of negation among Christians that is acutely seen in the political sphere? One of the answers Hunter gives is that of the need for affirmation instead of negation in the church (231).

In light of this, Christians, especially Christian conservatives, must seek to cultivate what they are for more than what they are against. In this culture and political climate it is easy to be negatively against something–always wearing the white-hat, while the “other guys” were up against wear the black-hat. It’s much more difficult being for something.

The very nature of what it is to be a Christian is recognize that everyone wears the black-hat and only Jesus wears the white-hat. The collective identity of Christians should be rooted in who they are for, namely, Jesus and his accomplishment at the cross and resurrection, and what they have become in Christ.

Jesus did not die to make people conservative (or liberal). Jesus died to rescue sinful people from their rebellion against his Lordship and launch the kingdom of God. Before a Christian should be known as anti-______, Christians should be known as pro-Jesus. Christians are to be proclaimers of the gospel who are being changed by the gospel before they are anything else. As long as the majority of the evangelical church continues to believe that their primary mission is to be anti-abortion, anti-big government, anti-gay, or anti-whatever they are off their primary mission of being pro-Jesus–proclaimers of the good news that Jesus died to bring sinners in-whatever-camp to God.

This does not mean Christians will never be against anything–they will. It just means that their core identity is rooted in what God has done in Christ for (and not against) the world. The mission of Christians is to be characterized by Jesus’ mission who, in his own words, said:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

Before we are against anything, let’s be unabashedly for that.

Shopping, Cutesy Nihilism, & the Resurrection of Jesus

Theologian David Wells writes about the consumer-driven, cutesy nihilism of American culture:

Modern consumption, as I have suggested, is not simply about shopping, because what we are buying is not simply goods and services. Modern consumption is about finding substitutes for an ultimate meaning and in this sense it serves a philosophical function. It is for many about the way they construct themselves, their way of looking at the world in the absence of meaning. It is, therefore, becoming the defining focus of a new kind of civilization. What was once just about buying goods has become a way of producing, private, fleeting moments of meaning which compensate for the many other losses in postmodern life. Postmoderns find themselves always moving and never stopping, going from one temporary oasis to another in search of palliatives for what is bleak within, but it is always movement without a destination. Self-definition is constructed only through what is present, by what can be purchased, and by what can be experienced…

Once our world was centered; now it is not. Once there were ultimate principles of criteria; now there are not. Once there was Authority; now there are only authorities, specialists who have mastered a small corner of life’s complexity. We have been left to drift in the flow of melting reality. This is our nihilism. However, it is not frontal nihilism. It is, instead, sly, evasive, superficial, and furtive in its strategies for avoiding the question of ultimate meaning, hopeful in its ability to surmount the Void. It assumes the complete emptiness of life, but it does not want to linger over that emptiness. Rather than be tortured with dark thoughts it is better just to make a joke, move on, and buy something.

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s answer to the meaninglessness of nihilism.  Wells explains:

Without [Jesus’] resurrection, faith is void and preaching useless (1 Cor. 15:14), and ‘you are still in your sins’ (15:17); because of this resurrection, new life has been secured (15:22), death has been vanquished (15:55-57) and a fatal blow has been delivered to ‘every rule and every authority and power’ (15:24) which has reared itself against the rule of God in the universe. At the Cross, Christ triumphed over his enemies. In that triumph lie human freedom and meaning.  It is, then, the disturbed moral order that Christ has rectified in his death and it is from this righted moral order that meaning in life derives. Paul’s teaching is not that life loses its emptiness because there is life beyond the grave but that what has made life empty is destroyed by Christ’s death and resurrection…

It is the fact of the resurrection, therefore, that connects us to a moral and spiritual order that lies beyond the grave. And it is this order that sends its clarifying light back into this life today. Its intrusion into life is what, in fact, gives to life its meaning because, in the end, nothing is insignificant. On the day of judgment, it will be discovered that as transient and fading as life seems, apparently ever in ‘the sunset of dissolution,’ nothing, in fact, has been obliterated. Nothing is ever lost. All is remembered, and all is subject to the divine reversal of human values and expectations that God’ s judgment entails. In that day, what seemed like a most insignificant act, such as the gift of a cup of water, an act that was forgotten, is remembered by God and accorded real, virtuous significance (Matt. 25:31-40). The wicked, the psalmist says, speak arrogantly and act oppresively because, they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive’ (Ps. 94:7). How mistaken they are! We are in Kundera’s words, ‘nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the Cross’ but this need not be a terrifying burden. It can, in fact, be a liberating gift. (Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, 192-193, 198-199)

…But King David Sinned Too

I find great comfort in knowing that the only Hero in the Bible is Jesus, and that all of the other biblical “heroes” sin–many of them grossly. The list is lengthy: Jacob, the deceiver; Noah, the drunkard; King David, the adulterer and murderer; Peter, the Christ-denier and gospel-compromiser; etc.

Sadly, it seems, a passive attitude toward sin can creep into the lives of believers in light of the failure of those whom have gone before. Many times I’ve heard it said, “…but King David, a man after God’s own heart, sinned too.”

Yes, that’s true. But don’t forget when confronted with his sin King David humbled himself and repented.

The Puritan Thomas Brooks warns against the kind of passive attitude that can sneak in from the sins of the faithful:

Ah, souls, you can easily sin as the saints, but can you repent with the saints? Many can sin with David and Peter, that cannot repent with David and Peter, and so must perish forever.  (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 46)

In one sense it is an encouragement to take solidarity in the sins of the saints, but we must also take solidarity in the repentance of the saints even more. If you’ve followed them into gross sin, follow them further into repentance and brokenness.

Men and women after God’s own heart are great sinners, but they are only “after God’s own heart” if they are great repent-ers as well.