Bible, Church, Holy Spirit, Sanctification, Soteriology, Theology, Uncategorized

Our Promissory God

Several decades ago a Canadian schoolteacher Everett Storms read the Bible through 27 times specifically counting God’s promises. The number he came up with is 7,487. We might dis‐ pute that number, but of this there must be no doubt: you can find thousands of God’s promises in the Bible. If you read nothing but divine promises in the Bible, you would be occupied for a very long time. If you removed the promises from the Bible, you would no longer have a Bible.

Listen here.

Bible, Holy Spirit, Sanctification, Soteriology, Theology

Pessimism Is Not a Strategy

“Hope is not a strategy” — this is an increasingly popular adage. It means that we can be hopeful all we want, but unless we have a plan and strategy in place to accomplish what we’re hoping for, that hope will likely be dashed.

This adage is a gleaming example of commonsensical, contra-biblical, worldly wisdom. According to the Bible, hope is in fact a strategy, one of the greatest strategies of all.

Read the rest of the article here.


Our Lord’s Crucifixion as Exaltation

Years ago I was asked to deliver a Good Friday evening message. The pastor of the host church made great pains to apprise me that the service was to highlight the “bitter herb” of our Lord’s death, and there was to be no sense of joy or rejoicing, which would be appropriate only later, on Easter Sunday. He also told me that his church gravitated toward and was filled with very “broken” people, overcome with hardship and grief. I inferred that his “bitter herb” Good Friday meeting was designed to appeal to these people. I thought at the time, and am increasingly convinced, that this approach is tragically one-sided, and it robbed his members of a glorious, inspiring biblical truth about the crucifixion: The crucifixion is about grief and humiliation, but it is equally about joy and exaltation.

We don’t often think that at his death, Jesus Christ was exalted, but he was. It’s easier to understand his death as humiliation. For example, we read of our Lord in Philippians 2:8,

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

In Gethsemane, he agonized in prayer, contemplating his substitutionary suffering for sinners. On the Cross itself, he suffered as no other person has every suffered, not only because of the excruciating pain of crucifixion, but because the sins of the world were placed on him (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). “It is difficult for modern people to appreciate the immense shame attached to this public humiliation.”[1] But this cruel shame could not compare with the unspeakable load of sin-sacrifice that he carried.  The crucifixion was a horrific humiliation the world has never seen or will ever see again.

The exaltation of attracting the world

But is no less an exaltation than a humiliation. To focus on the crucifixion only as a “bitter herb” is seriously to distort the biblical picture. Jesus himself made this clear when he declared

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (Jn. 12:32)

The Bible uses spatial metaphors to depict both humiliation and exaltation. Isaiah declared (6:1):

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.

In Psalm 138:6 we read: 

Though the LORD is on high,

Yet He regards the lowly;

But the proud He knows from afar.

Examples could be multiplied. Lowness is the place of humility, and highness is the place of exaltation. So when Jesus prophesied that he would be lifted up in death, he was asserting that he would be exalted.

The universality of the gospel

The exaltation of the crucifixion consists first in its salvific magnetism to the world. While crucifixion as an act is repellant, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is attractive. How? It saves the world (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:14). The gospel is not a message of universalism (that all people will ultimately be saved; this is obviously false), but it is a message of universality. The gospel is designed for all people everywhere, to reverse the sin that entered history at Eden. If sin is universal, so is the Cross.[2]

This is why Paul’s parallel between the first Adam and the second Adam (Jesus Christ) in Romans 5:12-21 is so vital. Adam acted for the entire race, and so did Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as through one man’s [Adam’s] offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s [Jesus Christ’s] righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life (v. 18).

The Paul who teaches election so uncompromisingly in Romans 9 can hardly be teaching that just as Adam’s sinful act condemned everybody, so Christ’s righteous act of the Cross justified everybody without qualification. Here is the contrast: “But the free gift is not like the offense” (v. 15, emphasis added). Adam’s unrighteous act enslaved all his posterity to sin; but Christ’s righteous act doesn’t enslave all his posterity; it gifts. We become servants of righteousness only by an act of faith (Rom. 6:10–18). The Cross presents us with the incomparable gift. Sin dehumanizes and removes man’s will from the picture (2 Tim. 2:26). Righteousness restores man’s will to obey. It re-humanizes us. The message of the exalted Cross goes out to all humanity.

We must look this truth squarely in the eye without flinching. The Bible teaches both corporate election (Israel [Isa. 45:4], the new covenant church [Col. 3:12]) as well as individual election (Eph. 1:5). God chooses his people to salvation, and they can choose him only because he chose them first (Jn. 15:16; 1 Jn. 4:19).

Election is not the gospel

But election is not the gospel, and it is never preached as the gospel in the Bible: “Truly, these times of ignorance [pre-Christian era] God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Ac. 17:30). “And He Himself [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation [an atonement that appeases] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). “And He [Jesus] said to them [his apostles], ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). The effects of the gospel are selective, but the preaching of the gospel is indiscriminate. We can (and should) tell every human: “Jesus died for you, and if you repent and trust in him, he will save you.”

The crucifixion is exaltation in that it graphically displays to the world that God in Jesus Christ is saving nothing less than the world.

The exaltation of trouncing and humiliating the principalities and powers

Second, the crucifixion exalted Christ in that he disarmed and humiliated the Satanic powers. Listen to Colossians 2:14b–15:

And He [Jesus] has taken it [the old covenant] out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

The Bible teaches that fallen beings stand just behind the curtain of the visible world and do the bidding of their arch-master Satan (Eph. 6:11–12). Though sinners are responsible for their evil lives, they play the role scripted and directed by their unseen diabolical puppet masters.[3] Until Jesus Christ came, they had capacious freedom of operation first unleashed in Eden. They were the usurping rulers of the world.

It seemed that Jesus was the one lowered and humiliated at the crucifixion. What the watching world — and Satan himself — did not yet know is that it was Satan and his entire usurping empire that was dispossessed and humiliated at the Cross. The Cross inaugurated the new (and final) world order.

But Jesus came to bind this insurrection and plunder this demonic house (Mt. 12:26–30). Jesus engaged in “cosmic politics”:[4] he dethroned the demonic powers that had usurped God’s earthly throne in Eden. He crushed Satan’s head on the Cross. To add another metaphor: he kicked out the squatting diabolical landlord. While at his resurrection he publicly gained victory over the enslaving power of sin, at the Cross he disarmed the ruling powers of sin.

The real behind-the-curtain humiliation

Jesus made a “public spectacle” in vanquishing the demonic powers. At first glance, this is hard to understand, because to anyone viewing the crucifixion that day, it was Jesus the Messiah who was disarmed and humiliated. He was the public spectacle.

However, his deepest work that day was not to save individual sinners, but to break the powers that enslaved sinners so that they could not be saved. Christ’s death saves sinners not just by paying the ransom for their sin but also, in doing this, breaking the power of Satan to enslave: “[T]he debacle of Satan is the first meaning of Jesus Christ.”[5]

It seemed that Jesus was the one lowered and humiliated at the crucifixion. What the watching world — and Satan himself — did not yet know is that it was Satan and his entire usurping empire that was dispossessed and humiliated at the Cross. The Cross inaugurated the new (and final) world order.

The theology of the cross and glory

Martin Luther famously contrasted a theology of the Cross with a theology of glory.[6] By theology of the Cross he meant the gospel arising from the suffering and humiliation of the Cross, fostering a deep helplessness in sinners by which they can turn in their grief to Jesus Christ and him alone. A theology of glory, by contrast, was the gospel of late medieval Rome, a gospel of pride in good works and great pomp and joy in the church and in human achievement. Suffering and sacrifice are at the heart of the gospel, and if we lack them, we lack the gospel and the Christian Faith.

This taxonomy is not incorrect, but it is incomplete, like certain parts of Luther’s other theology. Yes, the sinner must see his helplessness before God, and his hope in nothing else but the crucified (and risen and reigning and returning) Christ. But the gospel isn’t just a message of individual salvation; it’s also the message of the abolition of the old global order of Satan and the powers and the installation of the new godly global order. It’s a message not just of individual suffering and humility but also of cosmic healing and victory. This is the new Christic order.

Man is saved because of that new order. And it can be the message of individual salvation only because it’s the message of global salvation. It is the message of the exalted One on the Cross, who draws all humanity, and who vanquishes and humiliates the Satanic powers. The gospel is not just a theology of the Cross. It is a gospel of glory, and it can be a theology of the Cross precisely because it is a theology of glory. Above I cited Philippians 2:8 about our Lord’s crucifixion as humiliation. But now note verses 9–11 —

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The crucifixion as humiliation stands in closest proximity to crucifixion as exaltation. It would be convenient to assume this exaltation happened only at the resurrection or ascension, and it certainly happened at both. But Paul doesn’t say precisely when the exaltation happened, and from the two passages we’ve considered, we have reason to believe it was on the Cross that Jesus was exalted: “It was through Jesus’ work [on the Cross] that God made him known as the one who is Lord.”[7]

The theology of the Cross is the theology of glory. Better yet: the Cross is the glory (Gal. 4:16). The crucifixion is exaltation.

Order here

[1] Douglas R. A. Hare, “Cross, Crucify,” in The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Donald E. Gowan, ed. (Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 97.

[2] By “cross,” the biblical writers often mean more than the crucifixion; they mean the entire complex of redemption, including the resurrection. When Paul wrote that he boasted only the Cross (Gal. 6:14), or preached only the crucifixion (1 Cor. 2:2), he did not mean that he excluded the resurrection, without which there can be no salvation (1 Cor. 15:1–4; 16–19).

[3] E. Gordon Rupp, Principalities & Powers (London: Wyvern Books, 1965).

[4] Lewis B. Smedes, All Things Made New (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 33.

[5] Ibid., 34.

[6] Martin Luther, “Heidelberg Disputation,” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, Timothy F. Lull, ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 42–45.

[7] John G. Gibbs, Creation and Redemption (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1971), 85.

Eschatology, Holy Spirit, Sanctification, Soteriology, Uncategorized

Transformation by Resurrection

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10


Paul has just been teaching that Jesus is running up the score on the Devil.  Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more (Rom. 5:20).  In other words, where there’s lots of sin, God not just forgives that sin (if we repent, of course) but showers His grace and obliterates that sin.

But people might get the idea that, since lots of our sin elicits a shower of grace, why not sin more and more so that God can shower His grace more and more?  “This grace is so great, let’s just keep sinning so we can get more grace.”  Then, sin might end up being a good thing after all, since it highlights God’s grace.

Paul’s answer (v. 1 ) is, well … no.   God’s grace overwhelms our sin, but please understand one important thing: God’s grace isn’t designed just to forgive sin; God’s grace is designed ultimately to get rid of sin.  Paul’s whole point early in Romans is how God gets rid of man’s sin.  God’s not just trying to forgive sin; His objective is to destroy sin.  Sin destroys man, and God — by His grace — destroys sin.  The goal of grace is to destroy sin, not just forgive it.[1]  (This is why sanctification is no less important than justification, and you can never have one without the other.[2])

We read in Titus 2:11-12: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age . . . .”

So, if there’s anybody that says, “Well, I know sin is bad, but I can keep sinning since God’s grace will always forgive me,” he or she is on the road to destruction.  That’s not grace; that’s a disgrace.   “Shall we sin that grace may abound?  May it never be!”

And in saying no, Paul brings up one of the most remarkable truths in all the Bible.  It’s this: that when Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the grave, in some sense we died and rose with Him.  Remarkable.  What does this mean?  Paul is saying that what died when Jesus died was the power of sin over Jesus, and what came alive when Jesus rose was the great new power of righteousness (vv. 6 and 10).  And we died to sin and we rose in righteousness right along with Him.

It’s hard to tell you how momentous this teaching is.  We’ll get back to it in a minute.

But first, Paul brings up baptism.  He’s not trying to give some sort of “baptismal theology.”  He’s trying to make a bigger point, and baptism helps him make it.

When you’re baptized, you’re baptized into something.  For instance, you remember John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who baptized Jesus?  Well, when you are baptized into someone’s name, you really say that you’re becoming that person’s disciple (Ac. 19:3).  The men who were baptized in the name of John were baptized to become John’s disciples or followers.  When you are baptized in the name of Jesus, you publicly say you become His followers.  Baptism is a public attestation of discipleship.

But Christian baptism in water signifies something deeper.  It signifies union with Jesus Himself.  You see, when we trust Jesus, we are united to Him.   But becoming a part of Him means to share in His death and resurrection.

The big issue is not the baptism in water.  It’s like circumcision in the OT.  Baptism is supposed to signify something else, a deeper reality.   Baptism in water (as we saw in the preceding chapter) signifies our union with Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection.

This is why the Baptists believe in baptism by immersion:  you are immersed, laid out and then brought up out of the water.  I’m not persuaded by their view, but it does make a good point: baptism signs our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection.  This is where Paul gets really interesting.

Now, remember from Romans chapters 1-3 that the big deal for Paul is how God is going to overcome all this sin that has infested the world.  Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, the world has turned into this big, poison-infested swamp.  We’re in it, and this fetid swamp-water gushes over us and dirties us, and it influences all we do.  In fact, the swamp water comes from our own insides — our own sin pollutes all the worldly swamp we’re swimming in.

How God Gets Rid of Sin

The big question for Paul is how God gets rid of the poison in the swamp.  That answer has two parts.  First, recall that God justifies us in the blood of Jesus.  Jesus took our place on the Cross.  He bore our penalty.  We no longer will face punishment for our sin since Jesus was punished in our place.  God has justified us by faith — we trust in Jesus.  “Justification by faith alone”[3] (Rom. 4:5).  So now our guilt before God is wiped away in the blood of Jesus.  The penalty of sin is done away in God’s court.[4]

But man’s problem isn’t just the guilt of sin.  Man’s problem is the pollution and corruption of sin. Sin pollutes the swamp.  How does God clean up the swamp?

By the resurrection of Jesus.  That’s what the next few chapters of Romans are all about.  It’s not enough to be justified by the death of Jesus.  We have to be cleaned up by the life of Jesus.

So, what’s the big deal about this?  It’s this: Jesus’ resurrection changed Him.  And in getting to this, we’re getting to Paul’s major point. Jesus himself was transformed when He rose from the dead (as Richard Gaffin has so insightfully noted[5]).  When Jesus died, He died in weakness; but He was raised in power (1 Cor. 15:42-45).

In other words, Jesus’ earthly existence was not His resurrection existence.  Today, Jesus is not the same as He was when he walked on the earth and died on the Cross.  It’s the same Jesus, but He is a changed Man.

And because Jesus is a changed man, since we are united to Him in His resurrection, we are changed men and women.  That is how God changes us. God changes us by having changed Jesus.

Think hard about this.  When Jesus died, He was bound by sin.  Sin had power over Him — not His sin, of course, but ours.  Notice v. 9.  Before Jesus rose, sin and death had power over Him.  Jesus was enslaved to the power of sin — not His own sin, of course, but ours.  He carried our sin, our grief and sorrows (Is. 53).  His life was one of weakness and illness and weariness and tragedy and loneliness — the life of sin-bearing.  Sin, our sin, which He carried during His earthly life, had power over Him.

This is the earthly Jesus, the Son of God, Whom we read about in the Gospels.  This is the life of Jesus all the way to the Cross and to the tomb in which He was buried.   If you want to know the “life of Christ” according to Paul, it was a life of weakness, grief, burdens, illness, hardship — on the Cross, it was even a life separated from the Father, Who abandoned His own Son, the Son Who carried our sins.

This is the earthly life of Jesus Christ that we read about in the Bible.

The momentous teaching of Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5 is that in that empty tomb 2000 years ago, Jesus left that life behind.  Jesus was transformed.

Let me explain further.  Just as the Son of God entered a new mode of existence — a new way of living — when He was conceived in Mary’s womb, so He entered a new mode of existence — a new way of living — when He rose from the dead.  When Jesus came to earth to be born, He laid aside His way of life with the Father (Phil. 2:5-8).  He gave up the glories of Heaven for a life of suffering and humiliation — for us.  When He was conceived in the womb and born in Bethlehem, He abandoned His previous way of life for a life of sin-bearing and weakness and loneliness and defeat.  He assumed a new, humble mode of existence.

We must understand, similarly, that when Jesus rose from the grave, He abandoned that humble, earthly way of life for a new life.  He was sown in weakness; He was raised in power.   He gave up His life of sin-bearing and weakness and loneliness and defeat for a life of power and joy and communion and victory.  The old Man Jesus became the New Man Jesus.  Jesus had an old man and a new man (Paul’s language) just like we do.  And the old Man Jesus is gone forever.

Paul makes much the same point in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, where He’s talking about the resurrection.  He says that even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, that is, in a natural way, yet now we don’t know him that way any longer.  We cannot know Christ as we once knew him.  He has changed, and we have changed.

If you want to know the Jesus that now exists, read the book of Revelation, not the Gospels.  In Revelation, He is the conquering King, progressively beating down the old dragon (Satan); punishing His enemies on earth who are at war with Him; and delivering His people, who love and obey Him.  He is not just the Lamb Who had been slain but the Lion Who flexes his authority over the earth.  He is the Jesus at whose holy, horrifying presence John fell down as one dead.

This Jesus — not the Jesus of the Gospels — is the Jesus alive today.

Jesus’ New Life and Ours

This fact has staggering implications for Paul.  It means that since Jesus has a new mode of existence, a new life, we do also.  We are united to Him, so when He died to sin, we died to it also.  When He rose to righteousness, we rose also.  Why is it necessary to be united with Jesus?  Because that is God’s way of destroying sin!  Read v. 6 carefully.

Understand, therefore: we can longer encounter — no longer have a personal relationship with — the crucified Lord.  We can only encounter and relate to and love and befriend the crucified Lord in His resurrected state.  Think of it.  What kind of existence does Jesus have today?  Can He die? (v. 9).  Can His life today be filled with sin-bearing, sorrow, loneliness and weakness?  No, it cannot.  Well, then neither must ours.  That’s Paul’s whole point in this section.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him (Lk. 9:23).  Paul says that he dies daily (1 Cor. 15:31).  And in passages like Matthew 10:38, 2 Corinthians 1:5-7, 4:10, Philippians 3:10, and Colossians 1:24, we are informed that our present life must include suffering, just as our Lord’s earthly life did.  But for the Christian, there can be no death without a resurrection, just as for Christ there could not be.  Every death entails a resurrection, including our future physical death and future resurrection.  But in the present life, you cannot die every day to sin and self without also being resurrected to righteousness and power and hope and joy and glory and victory.

Christians do not live the crucified life; they live the resurrection life.

What does this mean?  It means that when we suffer, when we are lonely, when we are ill, when we are weak, we can appeal to Jesus, yes, but only to the Jesus Who lives today in constant victory over loneliness, suffering, illness, weakness.  In other words, we cannot encounter a Jesus Who knows only loneliness, suffering, illness, weakness, because that Jesus no longer exists.  We can only encounter a Jesus Who has defeated all of these.  And if we are united to Him, we have also defeated them.  We simply must live a life of resurrection — dead to sin, alive to Jesus (vv. 11-12).  There is no other Christian life.

The wife of the best man in my wedding is a remarkable woman.  I have known her for 40 years.  Months after they were married, she and my best man were T-boned by a drunk driver.  He was thrown clear, but her backbone was crushed.  She was paralyzed and has been a paraplegic for over 30 years.  I knew her when she was a teenager in full bloom and health.  I cannot know Tina that way anymore.  She is a new and different woman.  Her life has been transformed.

In the same way, I cannot know the “old” Jesus that walked the earth.  I can only know the “new” Jesus that rules in Heaven (1 Cor. 15:47-49).

To those of you who want to know Jesus in His pain and suffering and agony and weakness, who want Jesus to join you in wallowing in your self-doubt and failure and weakness, who desire for Him to be your partner in misery: You’re too late; you missed Him; you’re 2000 years too lateThat Jesus has been transformed.  He is now the Lord of glory, not the Jesus of the earth.

John on the island writes of this Jesus, quoting Him: “I [am] he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.”


What does this mean for you and me?  It means that when we come to Jesus for empathy and care and help (Heb. 4:14-16), we can come only to Jesus the Victor, not Jesus the Victim.  He can identify with our weaknesses and sorrows ands temptation, but He cannot identify with us in defeat — only in victory.  He can no longer identify with the three Hebrew boys who might perish in the fire; He can only identify with three Hebrew boys who are victorious over the fire.

Your way of thinking and mine must be dominated daily by this one fact — the Lord we love and serve is the Risen Lord, the Lord of victory and power and hope and joy and transformation.  There is no other Lord.

Jesus is incapable of commiserating with a life of defeat.  He can only lead us from defeat to victory. Jesus knows no other way.

Too many Christians live as though Jesus is still buried in the ground.   But that Jesus is gone forever.  There is no other Jesus to love and serve.  The Risen Lord is the only Lord there is.  The victorious Lord is only Lord there is.  The joyous Lord is the only Lord there is.  The powerful Lord is only Lord there is.

It is this Lord to Whom we are united.

Paul’s point: we can live the Christian life only by union with this Jesus, not the Jesus of Bethlehem or Nazareth or even Golgotha, but the Jesus of the empty tomb.

Therefore, according to Paul, there is no other Christian life possible except the life of victory and joy and power and hope and worldwide transformation (1 Cor. 15:56-58; 1 Jn. 5:4).

This is the Risen Jesus we serve, and there is simply no other Jesus.

[1] Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2000), 104.

[2] Alister McGrath, Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), ch. 2.

[3] G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Justification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), ch. 7.

[4] Leon Morris, The Atonement (Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1983), ch. 8

[5] Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978, 1987), 78-92.