Study provided by David Niednagel, Pastor/Teacher, Evansville, IN. David uses the S.O.A.P method of study in his morning devotional time (study, observe, apply, pray)
God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all equally and eternally God, and they are all “persons”. They are “equal in being, but subordinate in role”, though this subordination implies no inferiority at all. Many people refer to the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) not as a person, but as a force, or an “it”. But when Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit He said, “HE will be with you forever”. A force cannot love or comfort us, but a person can. (We will look at this more when we study the Holy Spirit). Some mainline protestants teach that Jesus is a good teacher, or prophet, or even “the son of God” but they deny that He is God the Son. Jehovah’s Witnesses say He is “a mighty God” but not Jehovah/Yahweh. Mormons say Jesus is God, but He was a man who became a God, and we can too. One key element of all cults, is that they in some way deny or distort the Triunity.
Islam denies the Trinity, thinking it means three gods, so their concept of God is not one of relationships as much as it is a concept of power. If “God wills it” anything can happen and He can do anything He wants, without being bound by His character. Power and will are God’s most significant attributes.
But the Bible teaches that in the Triunity all three persons love one another. They had a perfect relationship for all eternity and had no needs for anything else. When God created humans in His image, it was not because He was lonely or that we could give Him anything that He didn’t have. (So there is no reason to bargain with God – “If You do such and such, I will promise You ……) He created us so He could share Himself with us, so we could share in the relationship the members of the Triunity have with one another. In John 14:20 Jesus said when the Holy Spirit came to live in us we would “realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” We are included in the same relationship Jesus and the Father have with one another!!!
Triune God, I praise You for the perfect relationship You have with Yourself, and that You have created us and redeemed us so we could join in that amazing relationship. You not only teach, but You demonstrate what we are made for. Thank You so much that You desire to share Your relationship and glory with us, even though you don’t need to at all. Help us relate to one another the way You relate to One Another! Help me consciously love all three of You, and out of the overflow of that relationship, help me love people better than ever before. Amen
Study provided by David Niednagel, Pastor/Teacher, Evansville, IN. David uses the S.O.A.P method of study in his morning devotional time (study, observe, apply, pray)
The word Trinity is not in the Bible, and the doctrine has generated much confusion and opposition. So what is it and why do we believe it? (This is a very brief overview)
We start by recognizing that both the OT and NT teach that although there are many gods/idols, there is only one true God, (Deut 6:4; Isa 45:5-6; 1Tim 2:5; Jas 2:19) and that is the Creator we have been studying (holy, omniscient, omnipotent, etc). But the Bible also says Jesus has the same qualities of the God of the OT – He, Jesus, is the eternal Creator and the exact nature of the invisible God. (John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-19; Heb 1:1-3) The Holy Spirit is also clearly called God. (Acts 5:3-4).
Even though the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all the same God, they are distinct from one another, and not God manifesting Himself in different ways at different times. (A heresy called Modalism) At Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove (Matt 3:16-17). All three members of the Godhead were present yet distinct. When Jesus commanded baptism to be administered “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” all three were placed on equal footing and it was in “the name” (not “names”) of the one true God. Note also 2Cor 13:14; Eph 4:4-6; 1Pet 1:2; Jude 20-21.
So there is one God, eternally existing as three “persons”. (No one has thought of a better word.) And there is some hierarchy within that relationship, with the Son submitting to the Father (Heb 10:5-7; 1Cor 11:3) and the Holy Spirit also doing the will of both the Father and the Son, (John 15:26; 16:13-15) without being any less God or inferior in any way.
So, the word “Trinity” was designed to balance both the unity of the one God, and the “threeness”. Some have suggested a better word might be “Triunity”. But we don’t start with a definition, we start with the scripture and try to describe the data.
Although all three members of the Triunity/Godhead share the same eternal qualities, there are some differences in their works. Eph 1:3-14 says the Father planned and chose us for Salvation before ever creating the universe, then the Son lived a perfect life and died a perfect death to provide our salvation, and the Holy Spirit “sealed” us to guarantee our salvation till the day of our redemption. It is good to praise each member of the Triunity for our perfect salvation!
Great Triune God, I praise you for Your truly awesome works of Creation and Salvation! Both require the miraculous ability of a true God. And thank You for Your infinite love, to provide such a costly salvation. I praise You for Your love and unity within Your relationship that provides such blessing for me/us. Help me consciously think about and praise each of You as I worship You and call on You each day for Your to work in me and through me. Amen
Nine years ago this month, my dad went home to be with the Lord. One of my sweetest memories of him is how he loved to sing hymns. Whether he was fixing stuff around the house or leading our church’s congregational singing on Sunday mornings, I remember my dad’s strong baritone lifted in praise. Among his all-time favorite hymns was Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well.” Even now, I can picture him singing, with great gusto,
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
“Each day, our heavenly Father gives comfort for today’s sorrows and blessings for today’s joys.”
As a child, the words of this hymn held little meaning for me. I knew nothing yet of the billowing sorrows of life in a fallen world. But now, I think I understand why “It Is Well” was beloved by my dad. I too have felt pain and sadness; I too have experienced suffering and loss. But I have also tasted joy in the midst of grief. I have discovered, as my dad must have known, that it is possible to feel sad and happy at the same time; or as the apostle Paul put it, to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
How can we experience these contrary emotions at the same time? How can we learn to be “always rejoicing” in the midst of sorrow? We need the power of the Holy Spirit, to be sure. But Scripture teaches us to cultivate joy in the midst of sorrow through the daily habit of looking for God’s good gifts (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26). Each day, our heavenly Father gives comfort for today’s sorrows and blessings for today’s joys. Happiness in him comes one day at a time.
1. Don’t wish for yesterday.
Wishing for “the good ol’ days” or longing for “the way things used to be” will smother God’s gifts of joy for today. Here’s the thing about nostalgia: it’s often a cover for discontent, for dissatisfaction with God’s good gifts in the present. If we live in the past, wishing things were like that again, longing for some blessing we no longer have, we miss out on the joy and delight God has for us today. That’s why Solomon warns us, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
We often forget that yesterday had its sorrows too. We are also prone to forget the sustaining grace of God that carried us through those sorrows. If the present trouble is pressing hard, we may be tempted to think life was better before this trial. But longing for the past does not lead to wisdom or joy. So, let’s not wish for yesterday, but wisely thank God for yesterday’s mercies that are new again today (Lamentations 3:21–23).
2. Don’t long for tomorrow.
Sometimes we try to escape today’s sorrows by imagining a happier life tomorrow. Our impulse is to think that circumstances should be getting better soon, and then we will be joyful again. We conjure up images of the conflict magically sorted, the sickness miraculously healed, the work finished, the children all grown.
We tend to think,
When I finally graduate, then I’ll be happy.
If I get married, then I’ll be content.
If I have a baby, then my life will be complete.
When I get through mothering little ones, then I’ll feel rested.
If I survive my life with teenagers, then I’ll be free.
When I get through this trial, then my life will be good.
Not true! Tomorrow might not have today’s trouble, but it will have trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34). If we’re always imagining a trouble-free future, we miss out on the joy God has for us today. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble, and sufficient for the day are God’s gracious gifts of joy (James 1:17).
3. Live expectantly today.
If we are living for the future or pining for the past, we will be crippled by today’s trouble, and wind up bereft of today’s blessings. We cannot heed this well-known biblical exhortation: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
“Tomorrow might not have today’s trouble, but it will have trouble of its own.”
How do we rejoice and be glad in this sorrowful day? By following the psalmist’s example of prayer and watchfulness for God’s blessings: “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch” (Psalm 5:3). When I awaken to troubles aplenty and take them to the Lord in prayer and watch for his blessings throughout the day, I am frequently surprised and delighted by God’s goodness, and my heart is filled with a joy that transcends my circumstances.
The sorrowful yet ever-rejoicing Elisabeth Elliot learned this lesson over a lifetime.
I want to put it down right here that I have certainly “tasted the joy.” I cannot imagine a more wonderfully blessed life than mine. Faithfulness of a loving Father — that’s what I’ve found, every day of every week of every year, and it gets better. (Keep a Quiet Heart, 73)
4. Remember the greatest day ever.
But what if we pray and watch and still see no apparent blessings for this day of trouble? We must return to the place where we received the greatest gift of all. On a single day, over two thousand years ago now, God sent his perfect Son to die for our sins. He took our greatest trouble — the wrath of God we deserved — upon himself. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, the very ones we feel so acutely this day (Isaiah 53:4).
No matter what sorrow we may be feeling today, we can sing (with great gusto!) this happy truth:
My sin — oh, the bliss of this glorious thought — My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.
Carolyn Mahaney is a pastor’s wife and homemaker who has written several books with her daughter, including True Feelings and True Beauty. They are presently writing a book on Ecclesiastes. Carolyn and her husband, CJ, have four children and twelve grandchildren.
What’s in Your Soul That the Gospel Needs to Run a Sword Through?
Article by Jared C. Wilson
(And a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” — Luke 2:35
Often our joy comes in ways we do not expect. In the days of Jesus, the people of Israel were very much waiting on the arrival of the Messiah. They looked forward with eager expectation and zealous hope for the day the promised one would jump on the scene, overthrow the Roman oppressors, and re-establish God’s tangible kingdom on earth. The dominant vision for this deliverance involved the use of stallions and swords. But then the King finally does come. And he is riding on a donkey. There are no swords in the air, but rather palm branches. Yet the kingdom of God was not coming to bear any less in this peaceable rebellion.
When the blind Simeon finally saw the salvation of Israel, he was not beholding some muscular warrior armed for battle. He was holding up a baby. And yet the salvation this baby carried was no less powerful, no less vindicating, no less revolutionary. In fact, by coming as a baby, by coming in humility and low estate, by coming to serve and to teach and eventually to die, Jesus brought an even more dramatic rebellion than if he’d come with the zealot’s warfare.
Simeon declares the child Jesus “a glory to your people Israel,” but also “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). He brings a salvation that God has prepared “in the presence of all peoples” (v.31). This was no Plan B. This was not some unexpected twist in God’s covenant story. What Paul calls the “grafting in” of the Gentiles was forecast as part of God’s redemptive purposes throughout the Old Testament prophecies. And now that Christ has come, he is putting the plan into effect.
Christ’s work, then, frustrates the Gentiles’ search for glory apart from the God of Israel and unravels the Jews’ search for glory apart from the inclusion of the Gentiles. Christ has not come to overthrow physical kingdoms—at least, not yet—but to overthrow spiritual ones, the toughest ones to overthrow. Simeon promises “a sword through the soul” (v.35).
What’s in your soul that the gospel ought to run a sword through? Are you searching for pleasure and meaning in ways contrary to God’s plan? Are you trying to write the story of your own glory with your life? Are there areas of stubborn sin you have yet to attack with the power of Christ’s grace?
We try and try and try. We think the best answer to our bad behavior is trying to look good. We’re allergic to looking un-tough. But hope and joy comes in unexpected ways. It’s leaning on the finished work of Christ that finally undoes our desires for fulfillment apart from him. As Simeon could tell you, not even religion can do that.
Since the Internet is abuzz over UFOs, I thought I would take the opportunity to join the woman of Proverbs 31:25 who “laughs at the time to come.” I just wrote a book on Providence, and can hardly contain myself when I get a chance to celebrate God’s purposeful, all-embracing, all-pervasive, invincible sovereignty.
Last night I received an email from a friend asking about the recent UFO dustup. He had read an article that threw him for a loop. He was wondering how a UFO, if it proved to be true, could fit with the biblical vision of reality.
Here’s the gist of what I wrote back, with a few comments and Bible passages added.
No Cracks in Complete Sovereignty
One of the great joys of believing in the absolute sovereignty of God over all things is knowing that he is in control of every falling bird (Matthew 10:29) and all the movements of the farthest galaxies (Isaiah 40:26). Nothing anywhere in the universe happens apart from his plan. Whatever he causes directly, or whatever he permits less directly — everything happens in accord with his all-wise, all-just, all-merciful plan. He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
So no UFOs are showing up except by the plan of God. If they are fake, he rules over fake. If they are real, he rules over real. There are no cracks in complete sovereignty. Nothing squeaks through. God governs illusions. God governs atmospheric conundrums. God governs all the reaches of space and everything in it.
No UFO Exceptions
Add to that the spectacular news that the death of God’s Son, for the sins of all who believe, guarantees that this all-embracing, all-governing, divine plan is for our good. Nothing happens — absolutely nothing — but what God plans for the good of his people. And the reason we can count on this is the death of Jesus.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Paraphrase: God did the hardest thing in the universe for the sake of his elect (Romans 8:33) — he did not spare his Son the worst suffering the world could give. Therefore, Paul reasons, he will not spare any wisdom or power or goodness needed to give his people everything they need to joyfully do his will. He will “graciously give us all things.” God’s love and sovereignty work everything together — no exceptions — for our good (Romans 8:28).
That includes fake UFOs, explainable UFOs, unexplainable UFOs, real UFOs, and a hundred conspiracy theories, waiting to spread. They are all blood-bought servants of God’s undeserving elect. That’s what the logic of Romans 8:32 teaches.
No Limits to God’s Rule
Or to put it another way, for all who trust in Christ, UFOs cannot mean condemnation. There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). UFOs cannot mean wrath for God’s elect. “It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). We are not destined for wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9). There is only mercy and wise guidance for God’s children. Suffering, to be sure. But nothing that is not designed for our great good (Romans 8:35–39). We stand in grace (Romans 5:2). Almighty grace. If God is for us, no one, and nothing, can successfully be against us. UFOs included.
“If God is for us, no one, and nothing, can successfully be against us — UFOs included.”
God is not a territorial deity. Which means earth (or this solar system) is not his limited territory, while other gods have their interplanetary territory. No. God created all things (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16). The point of saying that God made all the stars, and gave them all their names, was precisely to banish any thought that other gods have their space in the universe (Isaiah 40:26). They don’t. There is no galaxy, no star, no planet, no moon, no asteroid, no space where God is not God.
No Worries, Fake or Real
Not only that, but Romans 8:20–22 teaches that the whole creation — not just the earth — fell under God’s judgment when sin entered the world. Planetary geography offers no greater barrier to the effects of the fall than earthly geography does. If Adam’s sin in the Middle East brought judgment and futility and corruption to North American forests, there is no reason to think the judgment did not fall on stars a billion light-years away.
The creation [not just the earth] was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him [God] who subjected it, in hope that the creation [not just the earth] itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation [not just the earth] has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:20–22)
Therefore, God rules the farthest reaches of the universe. He rules them as Judge. And he rules them as Redeemer. Jesus Christ died and rose again. He sits at the right hand of God as Redeemer-Ruler. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). The reach of his rule and redemption extends “far as the curse is found.” No galaxy, no star, no planet, no UFO escapes his design in the plan of redemption.
This means that I really don’t have much interest in the present claims about UFOs. First because I am a born skeptic about such reports. But mainly because it just does not make any ultimate difference if they are real or not. God reigns over fake UFOs and real UFOs.
Far Stranger Things
Moreover, there are far weirder things going on in this world than UFOs — things we don’t even know about. And even the ones we do know about are worse than anything outer space might produce. We have already been invaded by the worst aliens imaginable — Satan and his demons. They are more cruel and more powerful than any we may expect from distant galaxies. And their aim is not just earthly destruction, but eternal destruction. But their defeat is sure, since they were disarmed by the death of Christ (Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14). God has them under control as well.
In other words, believing in the total, wise, loving sovereignty of God puts ballast in our boat and keeps it from tipping over when the waves of rumor, science, culture, and nature batter us.
Stay steady, and laugh in the face of imagined and real invasions. God reigns. You are his child. What could be more secure!
Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org
“I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?” So wondered Samwise Gamgee to his dear friend and master, Frodo Baggins, in Tolkien’s beloved epic, The Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers, 362). And what a tale it is. It is beloved by so many because it has all the elements we love so much in a great story.
Now, in some sense, it’s true that what makes for a great story has as many descriptions as there are people. That’s one of the almost incomprehensibly glorious things about humanity: billions and billions of unique facets of expression and preference. But many of the greatest stories have similar elements in common, even as they span different cultures and generations. And there’s a reason for this.
What Makes a Story Great?
At the core of nearly all the great stories is a desperate struggle between good and evil. This struggle provides the context and foundation for understanding everything else in the story. It defines who are the heroes and heroines and who are villains.
And though these stories can vary significantly in time and plot, there is a remarkable consistency among them when it comes to the nature of good and the nature of evil. Heroes, while typically flawed, are admirable and courageous, and pursue the good of others — often at great cost to themselves. Villains are despicable and view others as a means to their self-exalting, others-dominating ends.
And there are common, transcendent moral themes present, in greater or lesser degrees, in these stories that resonate deeply inside us: truth, righteousness, justice, mercy, grace, faith, integrity, and always various expressions of love. Romantic love (eros), yes, especially in the stories of the past few centuries. But there’s also deep love of friends (philio) and often familial love (storge). “But the greatest of these” expressions of love in the greatest stories is when someone puts the good of others before themselves (agape) (1 Corinthians 13:13). We are especially moved and inspired by sacrificial love, when “someone [lays] down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
A Tale as Old as Time
And these stories frequently follow a similar narrative arc. Think of recent epic stories, besides The Lord of the Rings, that have captured the imaginations of collective billions around the world: The Avengers, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia. What’s the essential story?
An evil force, seeking to subject people under its domination, gains power and resources, and look invincible, while good finds itself in a weak position, outmanned, outgunned, and nearly out of time. And just when evil is about to deliver the final blow, and achieve its desire, against all apparent odds, the good finds an unexpected way through unexpected events to overcome and overthrow the powerful evil threat and deliver those who were imperiled.
This is a story told over and over and over again. And it has been told for ages. This narrative arc is in the biblical story of Esther, which is some 2,500 years old.
How to Gut Good Stories
But there’s one additional element I haven’t mentioned yet. And this element is ever-present, an indispensable component that holds the whole weave of these stories together: providence.
Toward the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, the wizard Gandalf was explaining to the troubled hobbit, Frodo, why first his uncle Bilbo and now he suddenly found themselves in possession of the Ring of Power. Dark forces surrounded them as Sauron, the Ring’s maker, desperately tried to obtain it. But Gandalf reminded:
There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master. . . . Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire! Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought. (The Fellowship of the Ring)
What we really love about these great stories is that the seemingly improbable turn of events and the apparently unlikely deliverances occur because, whether or not it’s explicitly mentioned, there’s a providence at work aiding the good and guiding the outcome. However it’s represented, providence is the iridescent moral backlight to the scenes in these stories that provides the good its beauty and makes its triumph meaningful.
In Western culture, the dominant narrative about human origins and destinations is Darwinian: that we and all that occurs in our experience are products of mindless, meaningless, moral-less forces. But deep down we know better. Our most beloved stories betray us. Remove providence and replace it with random chance, unguided coincidence, and all the beauty we love, all the meaning we need, is gutted out of the stories. Remove providence, and a story ceases to be a story.
Something deep inside us knows that good is supposed to ultimately defeat evil. We know this in our heart of hearts.
Echoes of the Real Story
Why do we know this? Why do we love these kinds of stories so much? I believe it’s because in them we hear echoes of the Great Story, the story of God’s redemption of fallen humanity. The narrative arc that our hearts recognize as glorious is the narrative arc of the Bible.
The Bible tells an epic story, but not in the way most of our epics are told. It is wholly unique — an odd, counterintuitive mixture of genres and authors and perspectives. We come away from it with sufficient understanding of the story’s origin and goal, but not anything we’d consider comprehensive. And the story is incomplete. It’s incomplete because the story is still being told — right now. It’s the Real Story being told in real time; the story we’re all a part of.
And the reason we love a story like The Lord of the Rings so much is because it taps into the deep places of our heart, where we long for real hope — the real “blessed hope” of the real return of the real King (Titus 2:13) and the final real overthrow of the dreadful evil in real life whose dark shadow we really live and languish under (1 John 3:8; 5:19).
What Chapter Are You In?
Perhaps, where we find ourselves right now in the Real Story, we feel like Frodo did in that conversation with Samwise Gamgee about the tale they found themselves in:
“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’” (The Two Towers, 363)
Some are experiencing this in more excruciating ways than others, though, in truth, we are all living here, on the outskirts of Mordor. The great fictional epics have horrible parts to them because the Real Epic has horrible parts to it, sometimes unspeakably so.
But Sauron’s days are numbered, the White Witch’s wintry spell is melting, light is breaking into the Dark Side, Voldemort’s control is weakening, Thanos’s snap is being undone, and Haman will swing from his own gallows. Jesus has come “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
No matter what we face, there is real hope because The Story is real: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Therefore, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
Christians, in theory, cling to an “old, old story” in an era freshly fixed on what’s new. As a society, we are increasingly like — and now perhaps exceed — those ancient Athenians who “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). The information and digital revolutions have conspired to create a veritable vortex of telling and hearing new things (“news,” for short). Meanwhile, we Christians cling to our admittedly (and gloriously) ancient truths — truths both out of step with the news milieu, and precisely what we most need to regain our bearings and restore spiritual sanity.
In the early 1990s, D.A. Carson identified a danger now all the more pressing a generation later: “The cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 26). And the temptation goes back even further than that. Pastor and poet Horatius Bonar (1808–1889) wrote in 1864 in the book God’s Way of Holiness,
The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily [communion] with a crucified and risen Lord. All divine life, and all precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism. If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labor, diligence, fasting, praying, and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.
Bonar’s charge cuts painfully across the grain of our day, and perhaps his antiquated language might give us a much-needed angle of focus as we cling to the ancient center in the era of media inundation.
All Springs from the Cross?
What is the biblical support for such a claim that all true holiness and good works “spring from the cross”? For the early Christians, that Jesus had been crucified was not simply a singular event, but it quickly became part of his identity, and theirs. Everything changed when God was crucified.
“Other world systems of belief will dream up resurrection. Only Christianity puts God on the cross.”
“Crucified” became a kind of identifying descriptor of our Lord even in the immediate aftermath of his resurrection, when the angel speaks to the women at the empty tomb: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen” (Matthew 28:5–6; so also Mark 16:6, “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified”). Then, fifty days later, at the climactic moment of his Pentecost address, Peter declares, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Soon after, in Acts 4, when Peter has healed a lame beggar and been arrested, and now stands before the council, having been asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7), he answers, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10). “Crucified,” as an identifying marker of Jesus, then came into its own in the ministry of the apostle Paul, who writes to the Galatians that, in his preaching, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1).
For the apostles and early church, that Jesus was crucified was not accidental or peripheral; it was profoundly revealing. Counterintuitively, the early church didn’t try to hide his crucifixion but push it front and center. The Son of God had not only taken on our flesh and blood, but he had given himself, sinless, in our stead, to execution at the cross — which revealed to us, through Jesus, the very person and heart of God for his people (Romans 5:8). As Carson says about the cross, this was “the most astonishing act of divine self-disclosure that has ever occurred” (16).
Christ and Him Crucified
The signature meditation on Christ crucified came to 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5, where Paul speaks to the startling, counterintuitive, revelatory nature of the cross. “The word of the cross” — the gospel message of a crucified Christ — “is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). For natural people, the cross turns the world upside down. In the cross, God makes foolish the world’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20) as Christians “preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Apart from new birth, sinners reject the cross as folly or a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23), but by the Spirit, we see the glory and receive the crucified (and risen) one as “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
“For the apostles and early church, that Jesus was crucified was not accidental or peripheral; it was profoundly revealing.”
The cross is not simply a component of the gospel message that tips nonbelievers into the kingdom through faith. Rather, the cross reveals to us God himself and his ways in the world (“wisdom”), and how to get right with him (“righteousness”) and be holy (“sanctification”) and be bought back from the world (“redemption”). Which is why Paul would go on to say, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) — not because his preaching was so narrow and restrained, but because the cross is so massive and all-pervasive.
Paul came to Corinth and Ephesus and everywhere he went with “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It’s not that he limited his scope in Corinth, but that the cross was so central, so omni-relevant, so deeply revelatory, that all he had to say, about any subject under the sun (“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable,” Acts 20:20) did indeed “spring from the cross,” in the words of Bonar. As Carson comments on 1 Corinthians 2:2, “What [Paul] means is that all he does is tied to the cross. He cannot talk long about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross. Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered” (38).
Early on, the cross became the symbol of Christianity, and has remained so to this day, not simply because it was easier to depict graphically than an empty tomb. The cross represents the whole of the Christian faith not to minimize the resurrection, or to in any way downplay its cataclysmic importance and essentiality, but because it is the cross that slays worldly wisdom and expectations. Resurrection displays an otherworldly power, but the cross puts to shame human vision. We will not see power in the resurrection until we have seen God’s upbraiding wisdom in the cross. Which makes the cross especially distinctive and appropriately representative. Other world systems of belief will dream up resurrection (even though they can’t produce it). Only Christianity puts God on the cross.
Fancied Sanctification vs. Real
In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul says that this crucified Christ “became to us . . . sanctification,” or literally, holiness (Greek hagiasmos). Bonar speaks to two sanctifications: real and fancied. “Fancied sanctification,” he says, “does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross.”
With this, John Owen would agree. Commenting on Psalm 130:4 (“with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared”), he expresses how essential it is to approach God on the basis of forgiveness: “Now, the psalmist tells us that the foundation of this fear or worship, and the only motive and encouragement for sinners to engage in it and give up themselves unto it, is this, that there is forgiveness with God. Without this no sinner could fear, serve, or worship him” (Works of John Owen, 6:469).
For Christians, true worship and “real sanctification” not only flow from the purchase of the cross, but also draw strength from conscious faith in the crucified Christ. We know our former selves to be crucified with him (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). So also for us: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Practically, then, how do we “get to the cross, and dwell there,” as Bonar commends? Again, he claims, “The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily [communion] with a crucified and risen Lord.”
“God will see to it that our hearts never tire of knowing our Lord as crucified.”
“The Surety” here is a reference to the cross as an objective event and fact, and demonstration of God, in history, of his gracious heart toward his people, and the guarantee of his everlasting favor. Bonar commends “continual recurrence” to the cross in daily communion with our crucified and risen Lord. Similarly, in holding up Paul’s cross-centered vision, Carson commends we “constantly reappropriate” the reality of the gospel, and particularly the cross (25).
Neither Paul, nor Bonar, nor Carson then turns to prescribe to every Christian what “continual” and “constant” getting to the cross must look like in every time and season and life. The precise means of your dwelling at the cross may look different than mine. But Christians in every time and place might benefit from asking themselves, Am I indeed getting to the cross? Do I really dwell there? What would it take for me to do so? How constant and how continual our approach may vary, but we either “get to the cross, and dwell there” or not. And our holiness is either real or fancied.
Bonar does mention one other general indicator: “daily.” And I can testify that daily is not too often. God will see to it that our hearts never tire of knowing our Lord as crucified. Having lived with this old, old truth now for almost fifteen years, I can say it’s never grown close to old.