“This [Christian] life may be described from two angles.
The longer we are in the presence of Jesus, the more deeply we know our sin and the sharper our conscience. This being so, we plunge ever deeper into debt with God. Those who know the Christian life only from outside find it hard to understand that the longer a Christian is with Christ the deeper his indebtedness, so that he can never leave the school of Christ as a completed and accomplished graduate free from all faults or omissions. But because this is so, and we increasingly realize our guilt in the light of Jesus, we have an increasing love for the One who wills to be the Savior of our life. He who is forgiven much, loves much. Theologians have constantly debated whether there is development or progress in the Christian life. Does not fellowship with Jesus necessarily bring growth? Or is the Christian state complete from the very first? Is sin forgiven once for all? is there no progress beyond it? Well, there is surely a kind of divine school in which we move up from class to class. There is surely development and growth in the Christian life. Yet we must not think of this progress in terms of our always becoming more holy and blameless. If we fall into this error, serious reverses will bring us back to soberness and a salutary anxiety.
We may, however, come to love Him more and more—and this is perhaps the true progress of the Christian life. Indeed, it undoubtedly is. And this progress in love does not mean that our soul acquires an increasing ability to love. It rests on the fact that we are increasingly forgiven. The more Jesus Christ humbles us, the greater our joy and the more jubilant our thanks. We do not increase before God. His goodness increases, and it is for this reason that we love Him more. “I must decrease, but he must increase.” This can be said only by great sinners, by those at the frontier. The last words of Luther after his great Christian life were not: “Look, Lord, how much I have progressed in love for you. For your sake I have known the greatest distress of conscience, the deepest loneliness and supreme achievement. Now you must open heaven to me.” Luther did not speak in such terms. His last words were simply: “We are beggars, that is true.”
But do you not think that God heard rather more in this dying confession than merely that we are beggars? Do you not think that in heaven He heard the unspoken accompanying statement: “Therefore you know, O God, how greatly I must love you”?
Nothing of myself I bring, You, O God, are everything.
Do you think that He heard this statement too?”
In Sunday school yesterday, we had a very good discussion of humanity’s call to exercise “dominion” in Gen 1:28–30, in relation to Adam’s call to “work and keep” the garden of Eden in Gen 2:15–17. I thought I’d share some of our discussion and my additional thoughts here.
In Gen 1, humanity’s commission to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” is a glorious calling, and comes as a result of our creation in the image of God—the image and dominion language is repeated twice:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:26–28)
This is key, because it means our commission to dominion is part and parcel of what it means to bear God’s image, and so understanding the character of our dominion flows from understanding the character of our image–bearing. Read more…
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Once more, here are some of my notes and observations on a sermon from Dominic Smart, available here, originally posted 1 June 2009.
Paul closes his letter to the Galatians by continuing to apply the realities of life in the Holy Spirit in wonderfully practical ways. As Paul seeks throughout this letter to pull the Galatians back to the gospel of the grace of God in Christ, he presses this dynamic:when we know deep down that Christ is our only and complete righteousness, then we become likewise gracious and bear true Spiritual fruit. If we become legalists in our relationship to God, on the other hand, it will be mirrored in our relationships with one another. What we are before God is who we will be before one another. Paul in this chapter spells out for the Galatians some hallmarks of a Christian community which lives in this fruitful grace of God.
We don’t shoot our wounded (v. 1). Paul begins,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (See further Ps 141:5; Rom 15:1; 1 Cor 2:15, 4:21, 10:15; 2 Cor 2:7; 2 Tim 2:25;Heb 12:13; James 5:19)
We should seek and show mercy and restoration, in gentleness and grace, as has been shown to us. We only stand, after all, because Christ is strong, not us. Read more…
More notes and observations on a sermon from Dominic Smart, available here, originally posted 13 May 2009.
A Christian can be ‘knocked out of the saddle’, so to speak, in one of two ways: either through sins of the flesh (blatant rebellion against the will of God), or through the less obvious but no less dangerous sin of confidence in the flesh. The latter is what Paul has in his sights here, as so often in Galatians.
Again, what exactly is the legalism? It’s not the presence of rules and laws and boundaries; it’s the attempt in some way or to some extent to be acceptable before God by our own (or one anothers’) rule-keeping and law-keeping and boundary-observation. Therefore the opposite of legalism isn’t antinomianism, because it’s actually impossible to be lawless — God is still God, and if we proclaim anything else god — even arbitrary liberty — we still make ourselves beholden to that. The opposite of legalism, of any variety, is the gospel. What opposes both legalism and libertinism is justification by imputed righteousness through faith in Christ alone. Here is true freedom, across all divides both from God and one another. This is so important, because there’s something in us that wants to hedge grace around with law in order to ‘safeguard’ the Christian life of fruitfulness. Yet this is precisely what puts us back under the burden of unfruitful self-justification. Read more…
Again, some notes and observations on a sermon by Dominic Smart, here, first posted 7 May 2009.
The Galatians had come to believe in the message of the gospel of Christ and thus received the Spirit (Gal 3:1-5). Paul in this passage aims to convince them that the gospel of free grace in Christ has always been the gospel. The ‘Judaizers’ of all people should’ve been the very strongest advocates of the gospel faith of Abraham!
Law and Its Curse
Paul calls up the example of Abraham, then, the father of the faithful, who believed in the God of promise — promises that were made to the Gentiles and fulfilled among the Gentiles as well:
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal 3:7-9, quoting Gen 12:3; see further Luke 19:9; Rom 3:30)
In fact, righteousness is only attainable as a gift from God of the righteousness of another, a substitute who takes upon himself both the law and its heavy curse. Listen carefully to Paul’s clear words, and his emphatic grounding of this gospel in the Old Testament scriptures: Read more…