Category Archives: Romans

The Mission of God

My sermon series on the Mission of God has provided me with plenty of opportunities to meditate on redemptive history. What follows is a large portion of my Sunday homily largely dependent on Christopher Wright’s massive tome, The Mission of God’s People:

The Bible does not begin with the Fall of man in Genesis 3 nor the restoration of man in Revelation 20. To put it simply, the Bible is not just about solving our sin problem. It has a more foundational beginning. It begins with the creation account. “Well, of course it does you may say!” But remarkably the creation account is rarely mentioned in conversations about mission. Creation is the fundamental starting point of mission. In the creation we learn to answer the questions, “Who owns this world?” and “What is our mission in it?” These questions only find an answer in the creation account.

If you skip this part, everything about the way you view the world will be thwarted. You can’t begin with creation fallen. You must begin with creation as it was intended, and then move from there.

Only then can you move into the second stage of God’s history, which is the Fall. Creation was united under the cause of seeing God’s world prosper in grace and truth. This was the mission of God, but men decided to go on their own mission; to take their own journey apart from God. This, of course, did not catch God by surprise. Evil and sin weave their way into every aspect of human society. Intellectually, we use our mental powers to justify our sins, rather then confess them. Socially, our relationships are fractured: sexual, parental, familial, societal, ethic and on and on. So, if all of creation is broken down, then all of creation needs to be restored. How much of creation was damaged by the fall? All. How much of it needs to be restored? All.

The third part of this narrative is the element of redemption. Creation, Fall, Redemption in history. But here’s where we need to see things aright, because we are not talking simply about redemption in an abstract fashion, nor are we speaking about redemption only of individual souls, we are talking about redemption in history. The mission of God is to redeem creation within history through persons and events that run from the call of Abraham to the return of Christ. By Genesis 11 the human race faced two major problems: the sinfulness of every human heart and the fracturing and confusion of the nations of humanity. What did God do to begin to fix these catastrophic problems? He called and elected Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. We can say that the first Great Commission was given to Abraham. Genesis 12 says: “Go…be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” In Exodus God came as redeemer showing simultaneous his mercy, love, and justice. At Sinai God entered into covenant with his people calling Israel to be his representatives and to be distinctive. Why would God ask Israel of these things? Why would God ask Israel to be holy? Was it so that Israel could grow up to be a good role model to her father? Well, certainly, but any sane reader will know that there is much more at stake. Israel was to be a light to the nations. By serving one another, obeying Yahweh’s commandments, Israel was teaching the nations how to be faithful children. We always tell our children: be faithful, be obedient because others are watching. In Israel’s case, God knew that Israel’s testimony would influence the nations. But we know the rest of the story. Like their father Adam, Israel failed. She was blind to God’s ways, so God sent His Son in the fullness of time to do what Israel could not do.

In Jesus, the reign of God entered human history in a way not previously experienced. With Jesus’ arrival we are asserting that He is Lord and Caesar and his ancestors have no right to rule. That is a fantastic missional mandate in itself.

The Gospel presents us with an accomplished victory that will ultimately be universally visible and vindicated.[1] And as we see this beautiful image emerging we see the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is the proof that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The Church exists to carry out this mission faithfully locally and also to the ends of the earth. For the Church is nothing less than the multinational fulfillment of the hope of Israel, that all the nations will be blessed through the people of Abraham.[2]

If this redemption occurs in history, then the only thing that is left in this grand mission is the New Creation. The mission of God will inaugurate at the end of history the renewal of God’s whole creation. God is going to tear down whatever evil is left on earth, judge the wicked, and usher in eternity. As John says in Revelation 21: “He who was seated on the throne said: Behold, I make all things new!”

We see then that the entire panorama of history from creation to new creation echoes the mission of God to restore and renew his earth.

This is then the way God intends to put his world right again.

What is mission? Mission is the overflowing of the love of God towards his creation. This overflowing of love lavishes us as his children and calls us to participate in God’s mission to turn the world upside down as the saints did in the first century.

Evil and sin will always be with us, but the Church has a responsibility to turn away from these things and push against it whenever required.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

This story composed of creation, fall, redemption in history, and new creation is your story. The first century church understood it, which is why they always alluded to it. You can’t understand your role in the story unless you know the story. And creation provides us with a little sample of the whole story. It is there where we get our values and principles. It is there where we get the introduction to God’s missional manual. I don’t know if you have this habit, but every new book I receive the first thing I do is to read the acknowledgments. It’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s usually the most intimate part of the book. It’s there where authors thank their friends, their children and spouse.. It’s there where the authors describe the process of writing the book, the hardships involved, etc. It’s an intimate section. The Bible is very similar. The Bible is God’s intimate self-description. It’s his revelation of how the world was made and what he plans to accomplish through his creation. Yes, of course, you can open up to the last chapter or page, but then you wouldn’t know how we got to where we are. We need the acknowledgement section of the Bible. We need Genesis 1 to acknowledge God’s purposes not only in creating, but in restoring his creation.

The way we look at the world and people is shaped very much by how we understand the initial creation account. If we begin in Genesis –where we should– we will have a view of restoration that is more beautiful; we will have a view of reconciliation that is more lovely in God’s eyes and we will have a view of the restoration of creation that is more in accord with God’s self-revelation.

Finally, we need to see that our roles are redemptive as human beings. Everything we do and everything we say needs to be in line with answering the question, “How can I participate in God’s story in a way that builds the body, rather than tear it down?” How can I communicate in the way I worship redemption to my children and those around me?” Does my demeanor communicate truth, grace, gospel rest to those around me? Is my life a story of redemption? Can those around me say that as they contemplate past and present interactions with me that I have been a source of redemption to them? If not, it is never too late to start.

The story of God’s mission began with a purpose: to save humanity and to restore human beings from their own self-destructive mission. We create missionary agendas that have nothing to do with God’s agenda. We see our places in the world like alien visitors taking a little same of dirt here and there, as opposed to resident aliens actually taking the dirt with us. Because believe me: everything you see here: dirt, trees, birds will most certainly be a part of your reality in the new creation. You are here to stay whether you like it or not. When you die, your body will be buried on earth only to be raised again in a new earth, just like this one, except with no pain, sorrow, or sin. On that day you will acknowledge that God’s mission was perfect and redeemed humanity will feast in his eternal presence.

[1] Wright, 43.

[2] Ibid.

This world is not my home…or is it?

Those who follow me on twitter may see several tweets with the hash-tag #Ruthproject. The Ruth project is a new work I am working with a fellow pastor from Birmingham. We are working on a commentary on Ruth. But this will not be just a normal, exegetical work, it is actually a pastoral and theological labor focusing on the nature and goal of redemptive history. We will focus on the content of Ruth’s majestic love story, but also detailing why Ruth serves as a miniature picture for all of God’s history.

We will offer a theological framework for how we are to look at redemptive history and how God is working in it. The commentary hopes to be practical, pastoral, and layman-friendly.

Here is a quote from the introduction:

What you believe about the future shapes how you live in the present.  If your final expectation is just to go and dwell forever in ethereal heaven, compare what your world view and your practice would be to someone whose final hope is of dwelling in a renovated and perfected physical creation in a resurrection body.

Lord-willing we will be able to provide a manuscript draft to our publisher by the end of the summer. Our goal is to have it published by the Family Advance Conference in November.

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

Romans 2:13

I have just returned from Monroe, LA where Mark Horne delivered four lectures on Romans. The lectures will soon be made available here. Elsewhere, Baptist theologian Sam Waldron is interacting with Lee Irons (disciple of Meredith Kline) on what Paul’s statement “the doers of the law will be justified” means. Waldron offers a quick survey of what the positions are and who held to them:

Holding the hypothetical view are Robert Haldane, Doug Moo, Stu Olyott, Charles Hodge, Henry Alford, and in his New Testament Theology George Eldon Ladd.

Holding a mediating position in which they seem to take Romans 2:13 as hypothetical, but verses 7-10 as real, are John Calvin, Matthew Poole, Alfred Barnes, and Geoffrey Wilson.

Holding the position that the judgment and justification of these verses are real are John Murray, R. C. H. Lenski, William Hendriksen, Tom Schreiner, James Denney, W. H. Griffith Thomas, G. Campbell Morgan (as cited by Thomas), Frederic Godet (as cited by Thomas), and C. E. B. Cranfield.  In Paul Herman Ridderbos also defends the view that this judgment is real.  In Paul: Missionary Theologian Robert Reymond also defends this view and, in fact, cites Murray.