Like many others, I have been moved over the last several years to repeatedly reassert the biblical emphasis on Christ’s propitiating work on the cross in what is typically called the “penal substitution” view of the atonement—for instance, devoting an entire chapter to it as the “sharp edge of the atonement” in my book Gospel Deeps and another whole chapter defending it from recent critiques in a forthcoming book (2020) with Thomas Nelson. But penal substitution is of course not the whole of the atonement. The gospel is more multifaceted than that, and one of the least considered facets is Christ as our ransom.
Psalm 49 establishes a dilemma of direst condition:
Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice . . . (49:7-8)
The condition of man since the fall is one of bondage to sin and corruption from death. Having disobeyed God, we have revolted from our insidest selves to his good order and holy decrees. Therefore, we are slaves to death and children of wrath.
The psalmists then effectively tell us that no man can rescue himself. We can’t even rescue each other. Why? Because no sinner can muster the moral currency required to pay the ransom for this rescue.
This is cause for great humility in ourselves, because those who are saved are not saved by any righteousness of their own, and for great patience and mercy with others, because those who do not believe in Christ are, biblically speaking, captives.
So there is the gospel of Jesus Christ to be carried into every dark corner of the soul and every far corner of the world! Because in the gospel comes the ransom that sets captives free. Psalm 49:15 tells of it: “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”
God will pay the ransom himself in order to receive us back to himself. He has done this through Christ, who is our ransom, as we see in texts like Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
But this angle on the atonement has always raised the sticky question: To whom is the ransom paid?
In C.S. Lewis’s classic work of “supposal,” The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we see where Aslan makes the payment of his life for Edmund’s liberation in response to the White Witch’s demands. It’s a powerful scene and not without biblical resonance, but if we draw the lines too directly, we may make a theological mistake of some importance. Aslan is clearly Christ in the story, and the Witch is clearly the stand-in for our accuser Satan. But while Satan is often called the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), he is still subservient to the sovereign Lord of all the cosmos. So we have to be careful in how we speak of ransom, lest we lend too much power to the enemy and deflect too much glory away from God.
There is in fact a “ransom text” in the Bible that gives us a clue as to whom is being paid the ransom. In 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Paul writes: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
The context of this passage show us Christ as the “mediator” not between men and the Devil or between God and the Devil but between men and God. It would seem from the shape of this text, that the ransom is paid by the Son of God to God the Father, as Jesus becomes the ransoming mediator between God and men, making atonement for men to God. And of course we see the foundation of this truth in Psalm 49:7, where the ransom price of man’s life is said to be owed to God.
In this sense, the ransom view of the atonement is similar to the concept of propitiation (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2), which means “to make favorable.” Who has Christ made favorable with his sacrifice on the cross? Certainly not the enemy, whose frustration is compounded eternally knowing that Jesus’s death redeems souls from sin and its punishment, and who at the cross is not paid but actually shamed (Col. 2:15), and not satisfied but actually defeated (Heb. 2:14-15).
No, at the cross, the sinless Jesus has taken the punishment owed by the Father to the sinful rebels against his holiness (Isaiah 53:4-5). The wrath of God has been satisfied at the cross of Christ (Col. 1:20). It is the Father who in holy love sends his Son to make the payment that removes his holy wrath from the children of God (1 John 4:10; John 3:36). The Father has been propitiated. Similarly, then, Christ has paid the ransom to the only one who truly holds life and death in his hands—God himself.
So in the beautiful irony of the gospel, we are effectively saved from God by God. The only security from God’s wrath, then, is found in God’s love in Christ (Psalm 2:12). The ransom now paid, we have been delivered from the domain of sin and death into perfect union with the Son of God, in whom there is therefore now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
Do you “manage” your energy? A growing chorus of experts have been pointing out the limits of managing our time and commending we pay more attention to managing our energy. According to Tony Schwartz, one of the leading voices for energy-management,
Between digital technology and rising complexity, there’s more information and more requests coming at us, faster and more relentlessly than ever. Unlike computers, however, human beings aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re designed to move rhythmically between high and low electrical frequencies. Our hearts beat at varying intervals. Our lungs expand and contract depending on demand. It’s not sufficient to be good at inhaling. Indeed, the more deeply you exhale, the calmer and more capable you become. (Tony Schwartz, Manage Your Day-to-Day, 51)
I don’t know Schwartz’s religious commitments, but I appreciate the acknowledgment that we are “designed.” Yes, we truly are designed: finite creatures fearfully and wonderfully formed by the infinite Creator. Wisdom entails recognizing that we have limits, and locating them. And yet, as Schwartz continues, “Instead, we live linear lives, progressively burning down our energy reservoirs throughout the day. It’s the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt.”
Schwartz’s observation may be insightful, but his solution is thin — and inadequate for those of us who not only acknowledge we’re designed, but claim to know our Designer: “The good news is that we can influence the way we manage our energy. By doing so skillfully, you can get more done in less time, at a higher level of quality, in a more sustainable way.” Many of us may have much to learn about better managing our energy in modern times, but as Christians we have much better and deeper good news to offer than influence, management, and greater productivity.
“We are not resigned to our energy ups and downs as entirely the product of natural forces, of cause and effect, of rest and recovery, of nourishment and exercise.”
To begin with, we do not see our own energy as a closed system. We are not resigned to our energy ups and downs as entirely the product of natural forces, of cause and effect, of rest and recovery, of nourishment and exercise. The natural factors are important; we minimize and ignore them to our detriment, even peril. But as Christians, we are supernaturalists. We know that our world is not a closed system. Neither is our body. God can, and often does, intervene into the normal course of our lives. Jesus Christ upholds the universe, moment by moment, with his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17). And not only can he uphold, and replenish, our energy with his own, but it’s actually a repeated (and often overlooked) theme in the letters of Paul.
Fierce Work Ethic
The end of the first chapter of Colossians is where it most recently caught my attention. This is a well-worn passage for many of us in which Paul captures the heart of his ministry as an apostle — which, in this instance, is not distinct to his apostleship but shared by us all in some sense, especially pastors and elders:
Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28–29)
Paul had a fierce work ethic. No one in the Scripture talks more about work — and specifically hard work — than the apostle Paul. Maybe he would have acknowledged that he had some unusual wiring. Perhaps it was his life of singleness that freed him for extraordinary ministry output. He not only claimed “far greater labors” than his detractors (2 Corinthians 11:23), but compared himself to the other apostles, saying, “I worked harder than any of them” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Again and again, however, Paul puts his uncommon exertions of energy forward not as an exception to admire but as an example to follow — within the capacity God has given each, and with the understanding that every Christian can grow and expand our capacity for productive labor.
Christ Who Energizes
As he worked harder than anyone, Paul shared “the secret” of his remarkable energy and contentment “in any and every circumstance” (Philippians 4:12). In Colossians 1:29, he says that he labors “with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,” but Philippians 4:13 explains how: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The him is “the Lord,” meaning Christ, from verse 10, which is why some translations make it plain: “through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul identifies Christ here as the particular person of the Godhead who gives him strength.
“Jesus knows what it’s like to press up against the limits of our flesh and blood and the bounds of finitude in our created world.”
A quick turn to 1 Timothy 1:12 confirms that Paul indeed has Christ Jesus our Lord specifically in mind as the supplier of his strength: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.” Similarly, Ephesians 6:10confirms this connection of human strength provided supernaturally by Christ himself, the God-man — the particular person of the Godhead who Christians confess as “Lord”: “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Finally, 2 Timothy 2:1 makes the same connection between spiritual strength and Jesus as the source: “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Paul not only claims to be strengthened by divine power — infinitely precious as that is. Paul speaks with more specificity. He testifies to divine-human power, to having Jesus’s own energy — “all his energy” — worked in him, and done so “powerfully,” by Christ himself.
With His Own Energy
When God strengthens us as Christians — when he shatters unbelieving notions of a closed system, not only supplying energy for us through natural means but by supernatural grace — he does so specifically through our brother and fellow human, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man. The King of kings and Lord of lords, seated in power as sovereign of the universe, is not only God but man. Humanity sits on heaven’s throne.
Jesus knows what it’s like to press up against the limits of our flesh and blood and the bounds of finitude in our created world. He knows what it’s like to have limited capacity, and limited time, and end the day with unfinished tasks. He knows what it’s like to be wearied physically (John 4:6) and what it’s like to need and carve out time for rest (Mark 6:31). He knows what it’s like to have work to accomplish (John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4). He had energy enough to work (almost) tirelessly, even on the Sabbath, when he encountered those in need (Luke 13:14–17; John 5:16–17; Mark 2:27–28). Through his works, his output of human energy, he not only bore witness to his Father (John 5:36; 9:3–5) and demonstrated whose he was (John 8:39–41; 10:25, 32) but also presented himself as the giver and focus of our faith (John 10:37–38; 14:10–11).
“No one in the Scripture talks more about work — and specifically hard work — than the apostle Paul.”
This same Jesus not only calls us his brothers but also fellow “laborers” (Matthew 9:37–38; Luke 10:7) and bids us to work with the energy we have for the good of others (Matthew 5:16). But he also does not leave us to our own energy. He doesn’t abandon us to what verve we can muster on our own, what we can produce merely through wise (and important) energy-management. He works in us — and does so powerfully, Paul says — to give us his own energy for the work to which he calls us.
Ask Him for Energy
As Christians, we will do well to learn to steward the energy God gives us naturally through diet, exercise, and rest. It would be irresponsible and foolish for us to treat lightly the God-created gifts of food and sleep, and presume that he will energize us apart from these natural means. But oh, how foolish it would be to ignore or neglect Jesus’s amazing offer: that he himself, the God-man, would work his own powerful energy in us.
How could we not make this a regular rhythm of our lives, to both faithfully steward and humbly acknowledge the limits of our own energy, and ask Jesus regularly to fill us with his own energy to fulfill the callings which he’s given us? Here, at last, we can lay down our weary sense of independence, and work hard in the strength he supplies.
Article by Marshall Segal, Staff Writer,desiringGod.org
What is the greatest threat to your soul? Whatever keeps you from God. And not every threat will be sin. In fact, for many of us, perhaps most of the greatest threats to our souls are not sin, but some good God himself has given to us.
John Piper offers a perceptive warning:
The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. (A Hunger for God, 18)
Do you know what awakens your appetite for heaven? Do you know what dulls those same desires? We may think we know well what sin will reap, but we’re often far less aware of just how dangerous apple pie can be.
“What is the greatest threat to your soul? Whatever keeps you from God.”
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked,” the apostle Paul writes, “for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). The trouble is that we fool ourselves into thinking there’s some safe middle ground — that we can make excuses and put off sowing to the Spirit, while still denying the flesh. But we always sow to something, very often to ourselves. And what we sow slowly reveals, and shapes, what we love most in life.
The Excuses We Make
Jesus was once confronted by a group of men who had been sowing seeds in the wrong places, and for a long time. He tells them a story:
A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses. (Luke 14:16–18)
The Pharisees loved being the protectors of God’s promises, the gatekeepers of his kingdom. They loved the law not because it humbled them before God, but because it gave them power over other people. They hated Jesus because he threatened that power. The Old Testament had been one long invitation to kiss the Son, but when he finally came, they tried to slaughter him with it. Having treasured the invitation for hundreds of years, they made excuses to skip the banquet — the kinds of excuses we’re still tempted to make today.
First Excuse: “I have too much to do.”
To make his point, Jesus briefly lists three excuses, but together they speak for thousands. He even says that the many invited guests “all alike began to make excuses” (Luke 14:18). The three are meant to be representative, to lead us deeper to the root under every excuse, especially our own. The first two overlap significantly:
The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” (Luke 14:18–19)
The first had a home to care for. The second was providing for his family. Lest we criticize them too quickly, they were (and are) basic human needs: food, water, and shelter. Leaving their field meant they and their loved ones might be homeless and go hungry.
Either way, when the banquet came, they were too busy. Business was calling. Too many house projects. Money had to be made and spent. Food needed to be on the table. Who else is going to inspect that field? Who’s going to inspect those oxen? In the story, the excuses seem ridiculous at first — until we think about them longer. The reality is that they hit dangerously close to home, to our own fields and stables. What feels so pressing to you, on any given day, that you’re willing to forgo the greater banquet set before you — to skip communing with God in his word and prayer?
“No one on earth is too busy for this banquet, not even you.”
No one on earth is too busy for this banquet, not even you. He is worth whatever we must not do to have him. So, “whether you eat or drink” — or own a home, or take a job, or secure your own livestock (or phone, or computer, or car) — “or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Wherever you work, “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Manage your household well (1 Timothy 3:5). Work and keep the land God has given you (Genesis 2:15). But do not build your home apart from God, or labor apart from walking with him. There are no good excuses for skipping this banquet.
Second Excuse: “I need to focus on my family.”
The second great excuse may be more sensitive for most. It was for me. “Another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’” (Luke 14:20). Some stood up the master because they were too preoccupied with marriage. The vows they had made before God now kept them from God. When the Bridegroom of heaven came at last to have his bride, they were unwilling to interrupt the marriage they were already enjoying. For better or worse, our spouse often has the most influence under heaven on our love for God.
Paul warns us about this temptation: “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32–34). The husband in Jesus’s parable, however, was no longer divided. He was all-in at home, and with no room in the inn for Christ. Did his marriage begin that way, or did the idolatry grow slowly, even imperceptibly, over time?
But doesn’t wisdom say, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22)? Yes, unless his wife keeps him from feasting with his Lord. The earthly distractions in marriage are real enough to keep some of us from Jesus entirely. Anyone who dares to marry should weigh the spiritual cost of matrimony. Mines are hiding in the marriage bed for those who are not ready for them.
“For better or worse, our spouse often has the most influence under heaven on our love for God.”
The wife stands in here, of course, for any loved one who demands our time, attention, and affection. Husbands can be as spiritually dangerous as wives. So can mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers (Luke 14:26). In Christ, we learn to count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), but not more significant than God. We can only love others well in the end when we love them for his sake. If our spouse or kids or parents or friends consume our lives (consciously or unconsciously), they rob us of what we need to love them well: God. Don’t let love you enjoy below be an excuse to neglect love from above.
Real Excuse: “I prefer my life to the banquet.”
Jesus wasn’t really talking about fields, or oxen, or even spouses, but about anything that keeps us from picking up our cross and following him (Luke 14:27). We are prone to let the pleasures and burdens of daily life become excuses for putting off Christ and his commands. When the cost of discipleship rises, when the cross we bear weighs heavier and heavier, we are tempted to scramble for excuses not to come.
Because we can prefer the life we have to a truly crucified life with Christ, we risk forfeiting the abundant life to come. Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). That word may have been the most piercing to the Pharisees. They loved the comfort, control, and celebrity they enjoyed before Jesus came and rocked their boat. They preferred the life they had to a life with Jesus in it, so they made their excuses. And Jesus says to anyone making excuses, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:24).
How will we feel the real horror of those words if we do not long to feast with Christ? Satan’s lifelong work is to keep us from the table — distracting us with lesser, fading pleasures, busying us with anything and everything under the sun, belittling the finest, most mouthwatering banquet ever assembled. The word of God spoils all his treachery and whets our appetite for heaven:
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:7–9)
When that meal finally is served, every soul will want to have been invited. And they were, but many would not come. For wife, for work, for whatever reason, they traded the banquet for bread crumbs.
Scarcely Recognizable, Almost Incurable
Piper, still writing about the greatest enemy to our hunger for God, continues,
For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18–20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable. (18)
“Sin takes the gifts and responsibilities God has given to us, and makes them excuses for avoiding God.”
The most dangerous part of our excuses may lie in their subtlety. God gave the land. God gave the oxen. God gave the bride. Shouldn’t we steward what he has provided and placed under our care? Yes, but never at the cost of our enjoying him. Sin takes the gifts and responsibilities God has given to us, and makes them excuses for avoiding God — an idolatry that is scarcely recognizable, often very religious, and almost incurable.
Almost. The excuses we have made before become new opportunities to come. The Father sent his own Son not only to warn us about missing the banquet, but to buy our seat with his blood. If we are willing to die with him, overcoming our excuses and bearing our cross, he will bring us safely to the table. He will live in and through us by his Spirit, “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14).
And best of all, God himself will be our inheritance, the richest course of the finest banquet we have ever tasted.
Friends: I will be away from my computer until July 29th. Blessings.
The Shape of Gospel Astonishment in Psalm 24
Meditation by Jared C. Wilson
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
There is God. He existed before anything existed, for he has always existed and he will always exist. He created everything that exists outside of himself and therefore he owns it all, including mankind.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
How can we enjoy fellowship with this awfully holy God? Who can justifiably enter his presence? The answer:
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
Sigh. I would love to enjoy fellowship with God, to receive his blessing and his righteousness. But I don’t have clean hands and a pure heart, and I have often lifted up my soul to falsehood and have sworn deceitfully. If that’s the standard for acceptance unto God’s favor I can only hang my head in shame and sorrow.
Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
What? What do you mean?
Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
Wait, what? Christ the LORD enters the equation? Well, of course! Of course he can do it! Jesus can abide in his presence, he can receive blessing from the Lord, he has a pure heart and clean hands, he is not false or deceitful in any way, and certainly he has sought the will of the Father at all times. I don’t have to hang my head in shame any more: Christ my righteousness has entered and purchased justification before the holy God for me!
Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah! And Hallelujah!
Article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org
They set out to get help from a higher power. The lion needed courage. The tinman needed a heart. The scarecrow needed a brain. The little girl longed to return home. But at journey’s end, they came to the unfortunate discovery: The Wizard of Oz was no wizard at all. He relied on screens and microphones. His wand was broken. He had only pins and needles to give.
Yet, all was not lost. Our four heroes realized that what each had sought, each already possessed. Along the way, Tinman loved, Lion risked, Scarecrow thought. Dorothy carried the ability to travel home wherever she went. They discovered that they did not need an all-powerful Oz behind the curtain. What each truly needed he already held within.
Whether or not Frank Baum meant it or not, Wizard of Oz is an apt parable of the generations-old self-help movement in our increasingly post-Christian West. The Oz, many say, has nothing to offer. God, the wisdom of modern man finally confirms, is a fraud. Yet, some rush to tell us, all is not lost. After sobering from the opiate of the masses, they tell us to awaken to reality: what we’ve needed all along already resides within each of us.
Truth in Self-Help
Some professing Christians are promoting self-help resources at alarming rates. As can happen when biting into that pizza roll too quickly, we can lose the ability to taste differences. We chew pop-psychology’s ideology of self-reliance and discern no real difference from Christianity, which builds upon God-dependence. We swallow both indiscriminately and wonder why our stomachs hurt.
Before we look at the differences between the ideologies, first a question: Can we learn anything from the self-help movement? Why does this placebo help some? Many will line up to testify of its cure-all power. What’s in the snake oil?
At least one true ingredient: self-help acknowledges our personal agency. Self-help assumes that you can indeed do something to help yourself. It too rejects the deceit that we drift helplessly downstream from our past or current circumstances. We are not leaves floating down from trees. The me of yesterday doesn’t have to be the me of tomorrow. We can learn discipline. We can “take control” of various aspects of our lives, escape addictions, and overcome fears.
At least self-help affirms what God always has: we can, even now, reap a different harvest by sowing a different crop. It properly highlights the truth that we can — and must — own some measures of responsibility for our lives. We each can choose, as Luther once said, many things under heaven. And each decision will have consequences.
Self-help advice rescues some from the fatalistic, paternalistic, dehumanizing worldviews (so common today) that deny a crucial component of God’s world: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Diagnosing the Difference
The ineptitude of the self-help philosophy becomes apparent when we contrast it with God-help. Note three differences, among others.
1. On Whom Do You Rely?
Self-help gurus have little to sell us other than ourselves. In stopping at mere personal agency, they send us to build a new life while denying us straw for our bricks. Sure, they interject themselves to get us going (for a small fee, of course), but the real power resides within. The god they point to stoops down to fit into every mirror we see. Returning to our childhood optimism, “I think I can, I think I can,” this endless search to find your true potential borrows from the oldest heresy: “And you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
Claiming to be wise, these gurus exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of successful man. Believe in yourself. Clutch the scepter of your life. You can do all things through you who gives you strength. As if God, looking down from heaven without any mercy, thundered, “Just figure it out!”
Promoters of self-help have not been tutored in that school that Paul had:
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
The illusions of self-help shatter when suffering weighs so heavily on our backs that we despair of life itself. Pain reminds us that we are still but creatures — for the gods do not bleed. But all affliction is a choice friend when it teaches us to sing, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1–2). The shoulders of him alone, who carried the cross and willingly bled for the treason of our self-reliance, can bear all of our further needs.
2. What Help Do You Get?
When we look within for help, we receive only temporal solutions to what amounts to eternal problems. That alcohol addiction is not first and foremost a sin because it destroys one’s family and poisons oneself. All transgression, as we shall all soon discover, is against God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). God has the first grievance, though the shrapnel certainly strikes others as well. Self-dependence may subdue some of the symptoms of sin — you stop drinking, overeating, or committing adultery — but a life of sin against God remains unaddressed and ultimately unaltered.
Whereas self-help can tidy a sinking ship, “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Grace trains the Christian to say “No!” to theft, anger-issues, pornography, pride, laziness, and say, “Yes!” to self-control, uprightness, and godly lives in the present (Titus 2:11–12) — all while steering us home and preparing us for heaven, not hell.
3. Who Gets the Glory?
When we trust in self — and actually succeed— we get the glory. I am smarter, more disciplined, better. When we become self-made men and women, and not God-made men and women, we run from disordered lives into the arms of pride. Having escaped the cobra, we encounter the bear. And this tempts the self-reliant to look down on others who aren’t successful, and, whether they ever succumb to temptation or not, they never bother looking up to God.
But the man who makes God his trust has a very different victory song:
Not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes and have put to shame those who hate us. In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever. (Psalm 44:6–8)
The Christian, awake to the reality that he has no good apart from his God (Psalm 16:2), speaks repeatedly, “Not to me, O God, not to me, but to your name give glory” (Psalm 115:1). Christ is his boast. Christ is his refrain. He wants every triumph to add another jewel to the crown of his King.
Make the Trade
Self-help gives me my own small, fleeting glory. God-help offers us deep, everlasting joy, secure in his unfading glory. Self-help offers a temporal good (at best). God-help gives eternal good with the temporal thrown in. Self-help relies on my discipline, my resolve, and my effort. God-help builds upon a child’s cry to his father, leaning on one’s eternal family, and trusting God’s unfailing promises. God-help sustains me with daily bread from heaven. Self-help cannibalizes me, for it can find no other food. God-help ends in salvation, glory, and the conquering of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Self-help addresses the coughs and sneezes of this life but leaves me, at the end of it, without hope, without forgiveness, and without God in this world.
So, trade self-help for God-help. God does not help those who, unmindful of him, help themselves. He works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4). In the end, self-help is sheer folly. It sends us to work on Babel, rent a room in Gomorrah, eat grass with the mad king, and speak over ourselves, “Take up your bed and rise.” The placebo works only for so long, but all shall fall eventually — and “great shall be the fall.” But those who trust in Christ have Almighty God working in them, unsearchable promises to guide them, a heaven to journey to, and a Savior to glorify along the way.
Article by John Piper (Pastor John responds to a question)…
Today we have a question about John Piper’s bestselling book Don’t Waste Your Life. And it comes to us from a listener named David. “Hello, Pastor John! Over the years, I have pondered Galatians 2:20. It appears to teach that the person I was in Adam is dead, and the risen Christ is now doing the living in my earthen vessel. Would this be your understanding also, and if so, might it be appropriate to modify your book title to Don’t Waste His Life? In what sense is the life we now live really a calling for his full life to manifest through us and break through our limitations and doubts and fears?” What would you say to David?
Don’t Waste Christ’s Life
I would say, “Yes, yes, yes.” When I say to Christians, “Don’t waste your life,” this means, “Don’t waste Christ’s life.” That is that what I mean, so yes. I didn’t make the connection, so thank you. I didn’t make the connection with Galatians 2:20 like you did, but that is exactly right. Let me read it so people are up to speed with what we’re talking about.
“Being crucified with Christ means that we are no longer slaves of the world. We’re free.”
Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh . . .” Notice the paradox there: he says, “I no longer live,” and then he says, “the life I live.” There’s some sense in which he’s not living and Christ is living instead, and another sense in which, “Oh, I am living.” But what does he mean then? He says, “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).
There’s the fundamental truth about a Christian. When we by faith are united to Christ, we are first united to his death. Romans 6:5 says, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Then, since our old rebellious, unbelieving selves died with Christ, in union with him in his death, we’re made alive by the Spirit to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). David is emphasizing that we think of this newness of life as Christ living through us so that all our life becomes a display of Christ. That’s good. Let’s look at some other texts and see how that works itself out.
Dead to Sin, Alive to God
I’ll stay in Galatians for a moment. We were at 2:20, but let’s go to Galatians 5:24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” What dies in union with Christ is old passions — old destructive, sinful, Christ-dishonoring desires. That’s how we show Christ now. We have new desires. His desires start to rule.
Then again: “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). Being crucified with Christ means that we are no longer slaves of the world. We’re free.
We’re not just echoing or conforming or mirroring the standards of the world, which means that our sin is broken. Romans 6:7: “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Paul continues, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). This is how we live the life of Christ. We live in victory over the sin that he died to defeat.
Here’s the positive way of saying it in Romans 6:13: “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members [that is, your arms, legs, and tongues] to God as instruments for righteousness.” I think “instruments for righteousness” is another way of saying “visible manifestations of the way Christ lives righteously in the world.”
Aroma of Christ
Another way Paul says it is that if we suffer for Christ, “[We are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10). There it is, real clear: the life of Christ shining out, manifest in our suffering bodies.
“What dies in union with Christ is old passions — old destructive, sinful, Christ-dishonoring desires.”
Still another way is to use the imagery of the aroma of Christ. Paul says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). We are the aroma of Christ. I think that’s another way of saying that our life is Christ.
When people spiritually smell our ethos, our attitudes, our actions — when they sniff spiritually, what they smell is the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15). Don’t waste the aroma of Christ which you are.
Another way he talks about it is in 2 Corinthians 3:18. This is how we actually look like Christ: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, the more we see Christ clearly in the word, the more we are changed into his image, and the more our life becomes his life for others to see.
We don’t waste our lives by looking more and more like the world. We try not to waste our lives by looking more and more like Christ, seeing him more clearly, knowing him more deeply, and so coming closer and closer to his image in the world.
Here is one last way Paul talks about our living the life of Christ and not wasting the life of Christ in us: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Then again: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). Or, “Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
Paul thinks of Christ as our new uniform, insignia, badge. Put on Christ. What we put on, or wear, as a covering, badge, or insignia not only covers us, but becomes our new identity, our appearance in the world. This appearance of Christ we must not waste.
Way of the Spirit
Maybe one last question: How do we live out this new identity of “not I, but Christ in me”? Just two quick pointers. Galatians 2:20 says that we live it by faith: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” The life I now live I live by faith. The conscious appropriation of the new life is by trusting Christ.
“The more we see Christ clearly in the word, the more we are changed into his image.”
But then Romans 7:4 says, “You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. . . . [We have] died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:4–6).
In other words, once we thought willpower law-keeping was the key to life, but we died to that. We died to the law in that sense. Now the key is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit way — the way he’s active in us is by faith. This is the new way of the spirit. The sum of the matter is that, when we are saved, we are united by the Spirit to Christ. Our old self — our unbelieving, rebellious, loving-sin self — dies with him.
Our new self is created by the Spirit through faith, and the image of that new self is Christ, Christ himself. From one degree of glory to the next. Yes, David, yes, don’t waste his life; don’t waste Christ’s life in you. It’s good theology, and you can change the title of my book if you want.
Friends: Today’s inspiration comes from Jenifer Hester Colbert. For those of you who are carrying a heavy burden, listen to this song, let the love and tenderness of Jesus flow into your burdened soul…and…for someone in your life that you know is carrying a heavy burden…take the love of Jesus that ‘is inside you’ and let His love and tenderness touch them through you. Amen
Galatians 6:2 The Apostle Paul tells us to
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of
Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said “28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Article byIain Duguid Professor, Westminster Theological Seminary
Nearly all Christians are familiar with the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10–20. But fewer are aware that the armor Paul describes traces its roots back to the Old Testament. In fact, the armor given to the Christian for his fight against the forces of sin and darkness is quite literally God’s armor — armor designed for and worn by God first and foremost. We fight and stand firm against Satan only in the strength that comes from the victory that Christ has already won for us.
This is why each of the various pieces of armor points us to Christ. The belt of truth is the belt that girds the messianic King (Isaiah 11:5). The breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation come from the divine warrior’s arsenal (Isaiah 59:17). The feet shod with gospel readiness are the feet of those who proclaim the arrival of Messiah’s kingdom (Isaiah 52:7). God himself is the shield of faith (Genesis 15:1). The sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is the weapon wielded by the promised servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49:2).
Christ Our Conqueror
In other words, God clothes us with nothing less than his own armor, the same armor that Christ has already worn on our behalf in his lifelong struggle with the mortal enemy of our souls, Satan himself. Jesus is no armchair general, who hands out the equipment but then watches the fighting from a safe distance. No, he has himself worn the armor and won the victory in our place! You are called to wear the Christian armor not because that’s what Jesus would do if he found himself in a similar situation to yours; you are called to wear God’s armor because that is what Jesus already has done, wearing God’s armor all the way to the cross.
Jesus stood firm against Satan’s schemes throughout his earthly life and ministry. Each of those specific temptations to which we have given in this week — lust, gossip, anger, pride, self-exaltation, lying, coveting — is a temptation he faced and stared down in your place. What is more, Jesus laid his life down at the cross for you, thereby accomplishing the victory that pours out God’s sanctifying Spirit into your life. Because of his victorious life, death, and resurrection, the same power that raised Christ up from the dead is now at work inside you and me through the ongoing work of the Spirit, raising us from spiritual death to new life. (In Ephesians 6:10, Paul echoes a trio of Greek words that he uses in Ephesians 1:19–20 to describe God’s power in the resurrection.)
Holiness Belongs to the Lord
However, the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit in your life is not ultimately under your control. In John 3, Jesus compares the process of becoming a Christian to birth. Just as a baby doesn’t have control over the time and circumstances of her birth, so God chose when to regenerate you and bring you to faith in Christ. But even after a child is born, he does not decisively control his own physical growth. He may wish to be taller or shorter, but wishing won’t make it so — or hasten the natural (slow) processes of physical growth. In the same way, we are not ultimately in control of the process of our spiritual growth. Sanctification is decisively God’s work from beginning to end (Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).
That perspective is enormously encouraging in our daily struggle with sin and Satan. We often imagine we are fighting on our own in our struggles against sin. Not at all. That is why Paul reminds us that prayer is such an integral part of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:18–20). It is not enough to put on the armor of God; we need to be in constant communication with the God of the armor. The reality is that your victory over sin is ultimately up to Jesus, not you. His struggle was the decisive one, not yours. His victory on the cross purchased your complete sanctification, your ultimate holiness before God (Ephesians 5:25–27). His Spirit is now at work within you, growing you toward his goal of your complete purity. Your spiritual growth may be much slower than you might wish, but if you are in Christ, God will sanctify you completely.
That doesn’t mean that we’ll never have to struggle with sin, of course. Quite the reverse: Paul clearly expects us to be engaged in a daily life-and-death struggle with Satan in all of his awesome power. The imagery of armor and battle shows us that our fight against sin must involve blood, sweat, and tears — our blood, sweat, and tears, as well as that of our Savior. We too are to take up our cross and follow after our Master on the road of hardship and suffering (Matthew 10:38). We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet Paul tells us to work out our own salvation precisely because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:13).
Christ’s wearing of God’s armor in your place and his triumphant victory over sin at the cross mean that your struggle against sin is never hopeless. God will ultimately sanctify you — he has promised to do so. On that last day, you will rise to new life in Christ and stand in God’s presence, made perfect forever. No Christian will be left behind, half-sanctified. Sin and Satan shall not have ultimate dominion over you (Romans 6:14).
Distant Triumph Song
This means that in the midst of the pain of the frustrating daily struggle against sin and Satan, you can plead with God to continue to advance that process here and now, whether strengthening you to stand against Satan, or by sometimes allowing you to fall, in order to grow your humility and dependence upon him (see Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.5). The knowledge that God is sovereign over your sanctification gives you hope to keep on trying, even in areas of your life where sin continually seems to have the upper hand. It reminds you that even when you are seeing real advance in your life, it is nothing you have accomplished and gives you no reason to boast. God’s Holy Spirit deserves all the glory, not you.
And he will receive the glory on that last day, when all of God’s weary, battle-stained children enter into the gates of the new Jerusalem, with their warfare, trials, and travails now a memory of the past, and a new song on their lips — a song of praise to Christ, the victorious Divine Warrior, who won their redemption through his fight.
As William Walsham How put it in his song “For All the Saints,”
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!
But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day; The saints triumphant rise in bright array; The King of Glory passes on his way. Alleluia! Alleluia!
The golden evening brightens in the west; Soon, soon, to faithful warriors comes their rest. Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Here are two truths about the Holy Spirit that we need to have clear from the beginning.
The first truth is that the Holy Spirit is a person not an impersonal force.
The second truth is that the Holy Spirit is God not a creation of God.
1. The Holy Spirit Is a Person
The most important passage to support the first truth is John 14–16. At least three things in these chapters confirm that Jesus thinks of the Holy Spirit as a person not a mere force.
1) Jesus calls him “another Counselor” in 14:16, “I will pray the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth” (14:26; 15:26; 16:7). When Jesus calls him a Counselor or Comforter, he treats him as a person not a force. And when he calls him “anotherCounselor,” he means, “He will be a counselor like me.” The Holy Spirit is a counselor like Jesus is—he is a person.
2) In John 14:17, Jesus says, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Then in verse 25 he says, “I have spoken to you while I am with you.” Jesus virtually identifies the Spirit with himself. “I am with you and will be in you” is the same as saying, “I am with you and the Spirit will be in you.” “You know me now as flesh and blood Son of God. You will know me soon through the Spirit who will be given to you.” Therefore, the Spirit is no less a person than Jesus is.
3) The Holy Spirit is described not merely as the voice of God’s teaching but as a teacher in his own right. John 14:26, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things.” And in 15:26 he is a witness in his own right, “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.” And lest we think that the Spirit is just the extended teaching activity of the Father and the Son, John 16:13 says that the Spirit first hears and then teaches: “He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.” The Spirit is treated not as a force, or influence, or activity of another person, but as a person in his own right, hearing from the Father and the Son, and teaching and bearing witness to men.
It will make a great deal of difference in your own life if you believe that you are being indwelt and led and purified not by impersonal forces from a distant God, but by a person who in his essence is the love of God (Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:12–13). Handley C.G. Moule, the former bishop of Durham who died in 1920, gave witness to the importance of the Spirit’s personality:
Never shall I forget the gain to my conscious faith and peace which came to my own soul, not long after a first decisive and appropriating view of the Crucified Lord as the sinner’s sacrifice of peace, from a more intelligent and conscious hold upon the living and most gracious Personality of that Holy Spirit through whose mercy the soul had got that blessed view. It was a new development of insight into the Love of God. It was a new contact as it were with the inner eternal movements of redeeming goodness and power, a new discovery in divine resources. (Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 13)
2. The Holy Spirit Is God
When you add the second truth about the Holy Spirit, the first becomes even more precious. The Holy Spirit is God. The person who indwells and leads and purifies is no one less than God, the Holy Spirit. The simple evidence for this is the frequent designation “Spirit of God.” The Spirit is “of God” not because God created him, but because he shares God’s nature and comes forth eternally from God (see 1 Corinthians 2:10–12). If the Son of God is equally eternal with the Father, as John 1:1–3 makes clear that he is, then so is the Holy Spirit equally eternal with them both, because, according to Romans 8:9–11, the Spirit of Christ is one and the same with the Spirit of God. If this were not so, we would have to imagine that there was a time when the Son had no Spirit and the Father had no Spirit. But I want to try to show is that the Holy Spirit is essential to the relationship between the Father and the Son. He is, to use Moule’s words again (p. 28), “the Result, the Bond, the Vehicle, of their everlasting mutual delight and love.”
As far back into eternity as God the Father has been generating or imaging forth the Son, there has been an infinite Holy Spirit of love and delight between them, who is himself a divine Person. Therefore, as Jesus prays for the church in John 17:26, he asks his Father for nothing less than the Holy Spirit when he says, “I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them.” The most glorious of all truths that we will discover in the next 20 weeks is that when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, he comes not merely as the Spirit of the Son, nor merely as the Spirit of the Father, but as the Spirit of infinite love between the Father and the Son, so that we may love the Father with the very love of the Son, and love the Son with the very love of the Father.
Friends: Today’s DL is full of golden nuggets. Eat, digest, let them marinate down into your spiritual marrow ‘so that’ the truth will empower you to share this good news with others. 😊 dh
Did God Break the Law for Love?
Taken from an article by Jared C. Wilson, Author, Blog Writer
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. — Romans 3:26
See, many people tend to think that when the Father sent the Son to die on the cross to forgive sins, he was in some sense “breaking the law.” That line of thinking lends to the idea that…’because of Jesus, God is letting our law-breaking somehow slide.’
The god preached in this kind of scenario is really the false god of antinomianism (“against the law”) because he can only forgive sins by in some way compromising his holiness. In other words, he sort of tips the scales towards his mercy and away from his righteousness. A lot of Christians tend to think of God’s work like that — as if, with Jesus, he’s kind of bending the rules. He sacrifices one part of his self (holiness) in order that we might take advantage of another (love).
But the one true God does not compromise one bit. He bends no rules! In fact, he punishes every single sin. Not a single sin throughout all of history slips through the cracks.
So how can he forgive sinners like us while maintaining the perfection of his holiness? He puts our sin on Jesus Christ.
God has declared that he will by no means clear the guilty (Nahum 1:3). So he instead makes guilty people righteous! But to do this in a way that is just, he must make a righteous person guilty. And he accomplishes this, the Bible reveals, by punishing our sin by punishing his son Jesus.
In this way, all sin is accounted for. Whether by the wrath of hell or by the wrath of the cross, every single sin is accounted for. And in this way, the grace of God is revealed. Christians therefore believe that if anyone wants to stand before a holy God and be declared holy enough to escape judgment, they must reject trusting in their own good works and instead accept the good works of Jesus Christ as their own.
The cross of Jesus Christ, then, shows us how God is both perfectly holy and perfectly loving, simultaneously and totally just and yet totally gracious. He doesn’t bend any rules or break any laws, as the spirit of antinomianism would suggest. It is in fact through the very cross of Christ that God, according to the Apostle Paul, “showed his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
The Christian God is both just and justifier, and he does his justifying as an act of sheer grace, forgiving sinners not by their obedience (because they could never obey well enough) but by Christ’s obedience, which is perfect and thus perfectly fulfills the perfectly holy law of God.
In fact, when you do a bit of “reverse engineering” on the atonement knowing this, you can see that in fact it wouldn’t be very loving at all for God to have broken his own laws to save us. Because an atonement made by a law not perfectly kept is no atonement at all. If God broke his law to save me, I am not saved, because what is needed is perfection. It would not be perfectly loving for our holy God to apply to me an imperfect atonement! But in fact the gospel announces not just that my sins are forgiven, but that I am counted righteous in Christ.
I have received the righteousness of Christ, which means that’s his perfect obedience to the law of God is considered as my own perfect obedience to the law of God. That’s how gracious God is! He has broken antinomianism for love.
And now, in the spirit of this grace, I pursue obedience of God with gratitude and freedom and joy — not because I am saved by my righteousness but because, in a sense, I am saved from it.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. — Matthew 5:17