What was God to do?

Some exquisiteness from the magnificent ‘On the Incarnation’ by St. Athanasius (298-373 AD) (Kindle Edition)!  My title ‘What was God to do?’ comes from a repeated question Athanasius asks in this chapter.

athanasiusChapter III: The Divine Dilemma and its solution in the Incarnation – (continued)

(11)  “When God the Almighty was making mankind through His own Word, He perceived that they, owing to the limitation of their nature, could not of themselves have any knowledge of their Artificer, the Incorporeal and Uncreated.  He took pity on them, therefore, and did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest their very existence should prove to be purposeless. For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?

…They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him?  But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness.  Why?

Simply in order that through the gift of Godlikeness in themselves they will be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men (and women – come on Athanasius!) the only really happy and blessed life.

…So great, indeed, were the goodness and the love of God.  Yet men(!), bowed down by the pleasures of the moment and by the frauds and illusions of the evil spirits, did not lift up their heads towards the truth.  So burdened were they with their wickedness that they seemed rather to be brute beasts than reasonable men, reflecting the very likeness of the Word.

What was God to do in face of this dehumanising of mankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of evil spirits?  Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself?  If so, what was the use of having made them in his own image originally?  It would surely have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than resort to a condition when once they had shared the nature of the Word.  Again, things being as they are, what was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God?  Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it.

What was God to do?  What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him?  And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ?

…He is revealed both through the works of His body and through His activity in the world…At one and the same time – this is the wonder – as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father…He sanctified [human flesh] by being in it.”

 

Amen to that!

 

jesus feet

 

 

 

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Die sin must or God

Christmas isn’t usually the time to talk about evil, or of Satan’s ultimate destruction, but that is precisely what Christmas, the coming of God in Christ, means.  Evil encompases all the chaos and dysfunction in the world, all the rebellion against God; and God’s salvation means an end to all that, and the return to a new heavenly order of holiness.

The coming of Jesus is God meeting His own requirements for not only sin’s penalty, but the whole moral order of the universe.  It is, in the end, God working to satisfy His own holy Name; and Jesus is the only One who can do that.

P. T. Forsyth wrote in Work of Christ that “An unsatisfied God, a dissatisfied God, would be no God.  He would but reflect the distraction of the world, and so succumb to it.”  Yet holiness must be satisfied, and nothing created can possibly do that.  Similarly, neither can God’s holiness be satisfied whilst any vestiges of unholiness, namely evil (i.e. hell), remain.  The destruction of evil is the fulfilment of God’s unsurpassing reign and joy of His holiness in all the New Creation for all people, everywhere. Isn’t that what 1 Corinthians 15:28 means?  That God will be all in all?  Thus if evil exists, what else does “all in all” mean?

Evil has no future because God is holy.

That means, as we remember the incarnation of the Son of God into the world, we remember and partake of God’s renewing of the whole cosmos to put an end to evil, but not to put an end to rebels, such as we, the human race, are.

Forsyth wrote in a brilliant sermon entitled The Bible Doctrine of Hell and the Unseen,

“If evil is to be permanent in any part of the universe, then God is there foiled and the Cross of Christ of none effect . . . . .So long as evil lasts there will be Hell.  If evil should cease Hell would be burned out.  Now if Christ’s Cross means anything it means the destruction of evil everywhere and forever.  The work of the Cross is not done while there is a single soul unwon to the mastery of Christ and uninfected by His Spirit. . . . If we believe in the Cross then we believe there will come a time when evil shall everywhere cease and sin no longer be.”

Evil has no future because Jesus has come, and remains by His Spirit.

Evil has no future because Jesus has satisfied God’s own holiness.

Evil has no future because God will be all in all.

“Die sin must or God.”  When Jesus was born, sin’s fate was sealed.  When Jesus died, sin was defeated forever.  When Jesus rose from the dead, sin was left behind in the tomb.  When He returns, sin will be erradicated forever.  The New Heaven and New Earth will know no sin.

That’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.

DSC_0082A sunset in South Devon.

Note:  This post was spurred by my reading of the excellent chapter on P. T. Forsyth by Jason Goroncy in ‘All Shall Be Well’ entitled ‘The Final Sanity is Complete Sanctity.’ And also the brilliant collection of Forsyth sermons in Goroncy’s ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’, which has been mentioned on this blog before.

All shall be wellForsyth.DescendingonHumanity.90702

We don’t do grace too well

selfrighteous-art

We are in a bind are we not?  I mean, a church is a community of mixed people, at every conceivable stage of life and experience, but together never-the-les.  The bind though, is that we are in this community as individuals gathered to love and serve the Lord and each other – and by-and-large, we want to do that, yet not without the occasional burp of dysfunction.

It would be fair I think, to take the hit on the proverbial chin, that the church is where one finds more hypocrites than anywhere else on the planet.  I know I am a hypocrite and I’m the minister!  But that is also the very reason why I am a Christian.  I am a sinner, I do sinful things, I think sinful things, I desire sinful things.  But thanks be to God there is a cure for sin, and that is salvation, a Christ-won salvation!

Salvation of sinners, hypocrites, liars, murderers, God-deniers, and the like, is God’s direct and effective self-revelation….in Christ….always and only in Christ……that opens the eyes of sinners, that they see him as a loving Father who has invited them into the joy and fellowship of His own self, the God-head of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And this should, I say should, set us free.

Most of the time, for many people, we respond to grace as we respond to a generous gift from a friend, “Oh you shouldn’t have.”  We take the gift and immediately the plotting starts on how we are to pay the person back for their gift.  That’s because we don’t do grace too well at all.  And this then leads to a fruit, a product, a worldview, a consequence of thinking about grace wrongly:  we become workers, doers, activists, organised, efficient.  In theological language we become nomians, law makers and law keepers and often law-seekers, the more laws the more po-faced we become, and the more po-faced the more righteous and religious -right?  It’s as if the whole book of Galatians was written for us, and we simply deflect verses such as 5:1 as being for others, them…out there….and certainly not us!!

When there is a law, what need of grace?  Grace language becomes a part of our religious discourse for sure, but its power, its truth, its vitality is simply not grasped.  Oh how we must nod sagely as we read in Ephesians 2 “…by grace you have been saved…” but inwardly shudder, maybe even mumbling something about the book of James balancing out all this nonsense about grace language with a works language.  After all, isn’t activism, busyness, practical-ness a contemporary virtue of our present day?  Now a works language we get, “Tell me what to do?”  It’s all a bit mixed up.  We don’t know what to do with Jesus’ own words about works:  “The work of God is this: believe the One He has sent…”  (John 6:29).

When we truly do get this kind of work, believing the God-man Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Word of God with skin on, the eternally begotten, the One who holds the universe in the palm of His hands and sustains it with the word of His power, this Jesus, is the One who offers salvation by grace to wayward sinners.  How on earth can that salvation offered by such a God ever be skewed to the degree that we think we’ve got to add to it or earn more favour (like what? What could we possibly add to that?).  Jesus died for you.  Your sins curse has been trumped and trashed by God’s salvation cure!  “Oh you shouldn’t have!  For me….really…..Oh I must pay you back….”

I’d like to end with a personal account from the 17th century of what I’m trying to say.  It’s about 1653 and a man named Humphrey Mills, who believed Christ – but under law, until one day he heard the sweet gospel preaching of the great Puritan Richard Sibbes.  Humphrey writes,

“I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for Heaven that way.  And then I was so precise with outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies.  But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint….Dr Sibbes, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit.  His sweet soul melting gospel sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world….and my heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.”

That’s what salvation does because salvation is from Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

God is for us

BARTH

“If we fix our eyes upon the place where the course of the world reaches its lowest point, where its vanity is unmistakable, where its groanings are most bitter and the divine incognito most impenetrable, we shall encounter there – Jesus Christ. . . The transformation of all things occurs where the riddle of human life reaches its culminating point.  The hope of his glory emerges for when nothing but the existentiality of God remains, and he becomes to us the veritable and living God.  He, whom we can apprehend only as against , stands there, for us.”

Karl Barth

Halloween has nothing on Reformation Day

Reformation Day

“The Reformation set free the question and nature of the church from the question of who belongs to it.  This was a decisive stage.  Roman Catholicism and the pre-Reformation church had thought that the question of the nature of the church would be answered by a definition of its extent.  The Reformation, and particularly the Lutheran concept, first says what the church is and leaves the question of its boundaries open.

It’s first concern is not the unveiling of the divine mystery of who belongs to the church, and who does not, the question of election and rejection, it is not aimed first and foremost at judging and distinguishing people; the most important thing is that the manifest saving act of God, the present Christ, his Word and sacrament, should be seen and adored.  There are no theoretical statements about the saved and the lost, there is no verdict “This person belongs to the church, this person does not,” but simply the joyful cry of those who have been granted a share in a great, astonishing gift, “Here is the gospel!”  “Here are the pure sacraments!”  “Here is the church!”  “Come here!” Continue reading

Supper and Salvation

Bread of the world in mercy broken,

Wine of the soul in mercy shed,

By whom the words of life were spoken,

And in whose death our sins are dead;

Look on the heart by sorrow broken,

Look on the tears by sinners shed;

And be Thy feast to us the token

That by Thy grace our souls are fed.  (Reginald Heber)

 

The Eucharist stands as a bulwark against reducing our participation in salvation to the exercise of devotional practices before God or being recruited to run errands for God.  It is hard to get through our heads, but the fact is that we are not in charge of salvation and we can add nothing to it.

Continue reading

What has Clay to do with Salvation?

Image

Quite a lot!

The classic passage in Jeremiah 18 about the potter and the clay is very famous and an incredible lesson for us in how to hear, and expect to hear the Word of the Lord in the ordinary everyday things of life!

While I was studying and preparing a recent sermon, the thought occurred to me too that because God always does what “seems good to do” (v4), and He never hesitates to rework the clay into another vessel if the clay is spoiled in whatever way.  Whichever way it happens, God will work on the clay!

But.  Human beings don’t exist just so God can shape us.  We don’t exist to give God something to do!  We all exist for a purpose, an exquisite purpose with divine intentions, and those intentions are…. (you guessed it) salvation.

In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul instructs Timothy that the Scriptures (God’s Word) are able to “make us wise for salvation.”  Not just to merely give us salvation, but to make us wise for salvation.  This is the language of maturity in Christ, growing up in Christ, reaching the full measure of the stature of Christ, putting away childish things, thinking as adults (i.e. maturely, wisely, biblically), and on and on.

I love the Church because it was God’s idea and it’s a flamin’ miracle, but too many in our churches treat salvation like a lump of clay.  There they sit, in the pews week after week, like a lump of clay on the potter’s table, refusing to be shaped, refusing to be crafted by the potter.  Why should they?  They have salvation – don’t they?

A fuller account of salvation is not that we are on the table, but that we are pushed and pulled, to and fro, turned, kneaded and squeezed.  Salvation is about the shaping and the contours of the pot too.

Clay was never meant to remain clay.  People are never meant to just have salvation.    Clay is meant to be shaped into a vessel.  People are meant to be made wise for salvation.  The potter shapes the clay to the image of a pot.  The Father shapes us into the image of his Son.

Don’t miss what God is doing in the ordinary things of our lives, because what He is doing is extraordinary.  Jeremiah saw it.  Do you?