King David on the Resurrection

520114756_6fca07c5e7_z

There’s a moment at the end of the Gospel of Luke that surprises me every time I read it.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44–47)

The resurrected Jesus speaks with his disciples and tells them that he fulfilled all that was written about him in the entire Old Testament. He says it is written that the Messiah should die and be raised, and that the gospel would be preached to the whole world.

Did you catch that? Jesus said his resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament. So…where was that again?

Peter’s Sermon

Many people rightly point to Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 as places to turn for Old Testament teaching on resurrection. But today we’ll examine how the apostle Peter answered this question.

Peter began his Pentecost sermon by explaining that the early Christians had received the Holy Spirit. He then talks about Jesus—his arrest, death, and resurrection. In explaining that “it was not possible for [Jesus] to be held by [death],” Peter does a strange thing. He quotes David in Psalm 16:8–11.

For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25–28)

Then Peter interprets for us.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:29–31)

Whoa.

Peter says that David, believing God’s long-term promise, knew that the Messiah could not be abandoned in death. He would not decay in the tomb.

As with Jesus, so with Us

Knowing that David was speaking about the Messiah in Psalm 16, what can we now learn from that text?

Because Psalm 16 is written in the first person, we should read David’s words—at least in part—as speaking prophetically not just about Christ but for Christ. After expressing confidence in the resurrection from the dead (v.10), we read this.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Though we may be eager to apply these verses to ourselves, let’s slow down.

Jesus had enormous, painful, tortuous work to accomplish. He bore a weight of sin we cannot imagine, and in his death on the cross he suffered an agony of soul far beyond the bodily pain he endured. His eternal Father turned away, and the Son felt the wrath of God against sin. On the cross there was no presence of the Father, no joy, no pleasures.

But the resurrection (and ascension) turned this story around. Jesus was vindicated by his resurrection and was welcomed back into perfect communion with his Father. In place of the wrath, loneliness, and fury he felt in his crucifixion, Jesus would now have “pleasures forevermore.”

These delights await us too. We can gain nothing greater in the new heavens and earth than God himself and the full joy that comes from his presence. But that fellowship was bought for us at a great cost. The promise is first for Jesus—who died for us but over whom death could never be a victor. And then it’s for us, because we follow our elder brother in his resurrection.


Photo Credit: James Emery (2007, Creative Commons License

Does God Just Tolerate Me?

grandparents-1927320_640

I have some close friends at church who are grandparents. For them, the cliché is true—they are over the moon about their grandchildren!

My friends would move mountains to spend time with their grandchildren. They soak up every moment of each visit and anticipate the next. They delight in their grandchildren.

Something that delights us does more than make us momentarily happy. It stirs our hearts, and the ripples wash lightness through our bodies. You might delight in a favorite place, a dear friend, or a treasured book or movie.

Have you ever pondered what delights God? The Bible provides a surprising answer.

The Anointed One

Our answer comes from the book of Isaiah. Aside from the Lord himself, the major characters in Isaiah are the Coming King, the Coming Servant, and the Coming Anointed One (the Messiah). We see pieces of Jesus’ mission in each of these prophetic figures.

At the end of Isaiah 61, the Anointed One rejoices in the task set before him (v. 10). He is dressed in “garments of salvation” in the same way that a couple prepares themselves for their wedding. These clothes mark the Messiah for his momentous work.

It’s no secret—the task of the Anointed One is salvation for God’s people (61:1) and the glory of God’s name (61:3). As surely as the earth brings forth plants, God guarantees that the Messiah’s mission will succeed (61:11).

Despite God’s promise, the Anointed One is not passive. He is determined, zealous, and vocal that the righteousness and glory of God’s people be displayed before all nations and kings (62:1–2).

God’s Delight

The results of the work of the Anointed One are astonishing and life-changing:

The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 61:2–5)

God’s people will be a “crown of beauty” in his hand (v. 3). A king’s crown is the physical sign of his royal position and glory. Amazingly, God’s people are a sign of his kingship and evidence that he is glorious. It’s hard to believe when looking around (or in the mirror), but God says it will be so.

Perhaps even more dramatic is the renaming in verses 2 and 4. The people shall go from “Forsaken” to “My Delight Is in Her,” and the land will go from “Desolate” to “Married.” Why the change? Is it because of all the good the people have done, all the yield the land has produced? Not hardly.

God changes the people’s name for a simple, profound reason: love. “For the Lord delights in you” (v. 4). To highlight this in the brightest colors, Isaiah writes that God will rejoice over his people as a groom rejoices over his bride (v. 5).

What was predicted long ago is our reality now. What a reality!

I rarely imagine God rejoicing over me. I think he occasionally disapproves of me and that he mostly tolerates me. I can be persuaded that he loves me at times. But to delight in me? That seems too outlandish, too fantastic to believe. But it’s true!

For Isaiah, the good news has never been just for Israel. God is eager for others to join his family; Israel must “prepare the way” and “build up the highway” (v. 10). The references to “the people” and “the peoples” (v. 10) show how God welcomes both Israelites and Gentiles to his holy city. They will all be called “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord” (v. 12).

At the end of this chapter, God wraps all his people together, giving them the same name. In a nod back to verse 4, they will be called “A City Not Forsaken” (v. 12). The Lord delights in his people, and their new name reflects his abiding, promise-backed love.

The Forsaken One

It’s hard to read this passage without wondering about this dramatic change. Why will the people no longer be forsaken?

Over many years and in many ways, Israel sinned against God. Though God turned away from them for a time, his covenant promise pulsed in the background of history. Through his Anointed One, God would fulfill this promise at the pinnacle of his justice and mercy.

God delighted in his Son, but in his hour of greatest need, the Father turned away. Jesus felt this abandonment like a hot knife tearing into his soul. On the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

We deserve to be forsaken. But our name is “Forsaken” no longer because Jesus was forsaken for us. God delights in us because his Son—the one in whom he delighted the most—became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Loved Ones

What difference would it make if we absorbed these truths into our bones? How would our lives change if we were sure of God’s delight in us?

Two applications come to mind.

First, we’d be more willing to take gospel-driven risks. If the delight of our heavenly Father is secure, then the potential harm to our reputations or social networks won’t be scary. If God smiles, we can shrug off others’ frowns.

We would also be more likely to trust God in uncertain times. God is not only sovereign and wise, he is good and loving. Even if we cannot connect the dots between our circumstances and God’s intentions, we can be sure there is a straight line from his heart to his providence in our lives.

This post originally appeared at Unlocking the Bible.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

Book Giveaway: The Curious Christian

bpiperIn case you missed it, last week I reviewed the book The Curious Christian, by Barnabas Piper. It’s a great book—I think you’d benefit by reading it.

I have an extra copy of this book, so I thought I’d give it away! Here are the rules.

  1. I will only mail to the 48 continental United States. Sorry!
  2. Enter only one time per person.
  3. The giveaway will close at 12:00 noon (Eastern) on Saturday, March 18. I’ll choose the winner at random using the Random.org website.
  4. I’ll email the winner for a mailing address, and I’ll delete all other entries. I will use your information for nothing at all unless you win.

Go here to enter the contest. Thanks!

Update: The contest is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!


Disclosure: the link to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Christians Are Curious People

animal-portrait-234836_640

We’re all familiar with Jesus’s summary of the law: love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:34–40). These two commands capture what it means to follow the Lord.

Until recently I hadn’t seen the role that curiosity plays in obeying these commands. It’s easy to miss, but Barnabas Piper helped me see the connection in his new book, The Curious Christian.

Loving God

If we’re to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we need curiosity. What is God like? What does it mean to love him? Will he love me? We need answers to these questions, and we find the answers in the Bible.

Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation and nature. If we are to do something that honors God, then we must know Him, and Scripture is where He reveals Himself, where He tells what we need to know for a right and vibrant relationship with Him. For this reason Scripture is where our curiosity should be directed first and most consistently, not as a book or a text or a resource but as a revelation of our Creator. (The Curious Christian, p.160)

When we love God with our minds, we learn about him. We don’t hold onto our own ideas of what God must be like, but we humble ourselves and receive instruction.

Curiosity drives us to seek the deep truths of God. It leads us to discover aspects of His character and truths of His Word that hide behind a veil or aren’t readily visible in the mundane life. It overcomes the preconceptions we have of God that often make us like Him less, often from a legalistic background: God as boss, God as judge, God as distant, God as joyless, God as killjoy, God as impersonal, God as boring, God as powerless, God as puppet master. Curiosity enlarges God in our minds, or rather helps us see His largeness and His largesse, His closeness and His love, His plan and His promise. (The Curious Christian, pp.48–49)

And, amazingly, our curiosity will continue in heaven! We will get to know God better and better, and because he is infinite in all aspects of his character and person, we’ll never run out of material. We’ll be curious for eternity.

In this life every ounce of curiosity we have points toward God in some way. In eternity all curiosity goes deeper in relationship with Him. In this life there is a veil between us and the presence of God because of our sinfulness. In the next life we will live in the presence of God unhindered and unveiled. This is why heaven won’t get boring. (The Curious Christian, p.147)

What makes heaven heaven is not unlimited fun and games—though we will almost certainly have tons of unfettered fun. No, we would tire of those after a few centuries. What makes it a true paradise is being with God, fully and freely in His presence. Imagine a world unhindered by distraction or sin or pain. Imagine free access to the infinite depths of God’s person and character. You can’t. But in trying you may have seen that heaven can’t possibly become dull. (The Curious Christian, p.148)

Loving Our Neighbors

Curiosity is essential if we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. How can you love someone—especially in a beyond-the-surface-stuff way—if you don’t get to know them?

In short, curiosity turns us outward, away from selfishness. Our base desire is to turn every relationship to our benefit, to get what we can out of it. Curiosity, at its best, undermines this sinful desire because it locks in on the needs and interests and desires of the other person. Instead of “What can they do for me?” it becomes “Who is this person and what do they need?” (The Curious Christian, p.134)

Curiosity combined with courage presses in and digs deeper. We found out about their outward life—hobbies, preferences, history. But now we take the risk of finding out about their inner life—hopes, beliefs, passions, dreams, fears. Curiosity takes risks and steps into the unknown. It digs into shadowy places where there might be treasure or where there might be pain. This is the grounds for real friendship. The reality is that people are much more likely to open up to us than we think; we just need to go first. In fact, they’ve been hungering for someone to connect with as well. (The Curious Christian, p.46)

Curiosity will transform the church. Piper writes that if the church were full of curious people,

It would move toward being more diverse racially, socioeconomically, and educationally because people would be deeply interested in those different from themselves instead of frightened of them or intimidated by them. (The Curious Christian, p.53)

Takeaways

I’ve written about curiosity before, mostly in the context of asking good questions and being a good listener. But Piper’s book has convinced me that curiosity is an essential part of the whole life of the Christian.

If we’re to be faithful to God in the place where he’s put us, we need to make connections, ask questions, get to know our neighbors, and be good observers. If you’d like to learn more about how curiosity works itself out, I suggest you pick up The Curious Christian. (And check back next week—I’ll be giving away a copy of this book!)

Thanks to B&H Books for an advance reader’s copy of this book.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: anonymous (2008), public domain

Your Feedback Must Come From Love

brothers-444924_640

Do you want to improve in one of your roles? Do you want to grow? Then seek out honest, detailed feedback. It may sting, but it can be eye-opening and transformative.

Anyone learning this lesson knows that not all feedback is created equal. For example, student evaluations have limited value for me as a teacher. Students often write about what would make my class less demanding for them. They want an easier semester and a higher grade. Since their objective in giving feedback doesn’t match my goals or priorities, I don’t usually gain much from their evaluations.

I find gems on occasion. A student will see what I’ve been trying to accomplish and let me know what’s working and what isn’t. These students don’t focus on themselves, but they relate their experience to my goals in an honest attempt to help me improve.

The posture of the person giving feedback makes all the difference.

Jethro and Moses

In Exodus 18, we read of a prolonged encounter between Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro. This occurs just before Moses goes up Mount Sinai to meet with God.

After Jethro arrived at the Israelite camp, he observed Moses’s routine. He was troubled.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. (Exodus 18:17–18)

Jethro was concerned about both Moses and the people. He didn’t want them to wear out. His feedback was rooted in his care for Moses and the rest of the people.

In examining Jethro’s advice, we must not ignore the first half of the chapter. Jethro arrives with Moses’s wife and sons (v.5), greets Moses with warm affection (v.7), and hears about “all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake” (v.8).

Jethro’s response is striking. He rejoices (v.9), confesses God’s supremacy above all other gods (v.11), and worships God with Aaron and the elders of Israel (v.12). Given that Jethro enters the chapter as a priest of another religion (v.1), many interpreters view this as a turn toward God. If Jethro is not converted here, he is clearly interested and sympathetic to the Israelite religion.

It took me a while to connect the two halves of Exodus 18. Why do we need Moses’s testimony and Jethro’s reaction? Previously, Moses was connected to Jethro by marriage, but now he knows (and we know) more of Jethro’s heart. Jethro’s advice comes from love. Because Jethro cares for Moses and the Israelite people (with whom he may now identify religiously), he cautions them about a harmful practice.

Moses did all that Jethro suggested (v.24), and we can assume what Jethro predicted came to pass: Moses endured and the people went their way in peace (v.23).

Ground Your Feedback in Love

The debate over Jethro’s conversion is only tangentially related to my point. Because of God’s common grace, we should be open to feedback from outside the church.

But feedback given in love is powerful. It can make all the difference between someone hearing or ignoring your advice.

Of course, it’s far too easy to critique for reasons other than love. We’ve all done it.

  • You critique because you want things to be familiar.
  • You critique because you esteem another person or place highly.
  • You critique because you want to be correct.
  • You critique because your preferences aren’t shared.
  • You critique because you compare your situation to an unrealistic ideal.
  • You critique because you want your way.

When we give feedback like this, we act more like correctors or evaluators than loving, helpful friends. It’s a sure way to discourage, to make someone feel like they are always being measured or tested or rated. No one wants to be a project.

I’m prone to a critical spirit, and I’ve given plenty of lousy feedback in the past. By God’s grace, I’m trying to move away from harsh and relentless criticism. Toward this end, I’m trying to think through these questions as I give feedback.

  • Do I love this person/organization? — Hopefully the answer is yes, but even our best intentions can sour over time. Pray for this person, not only that God would use your feedback for their good, but that God would bless them richly in all aspects of their life. Pray that God would create or sustain love for them within you.
  • Am I too negative? — Even in the midst of criticism, we should find ways to encourage the other person by pointing out how God is at work in their life or in this situation. Remember that “to encourage” means “to give courage” — offering a mountain of unvarnished negativity doesn’t prepare anyone to face the next challenge.
  • Am I proud? — When giving feedback, a humble posture is essential. Acknowledge that any expertise or ability or wisdom you have is from God, and underline the fact that you haven’t arrived. We all need correction and we all need to grow. Acknowledge the difficulty of the hard tasks or the repentance you are suggesting. Point your friend to the depths of forgiveness, love, and power that God offers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tell your friend how God has been your strength and shield and deliverer.

Photo Credit: Siggy Nowak (2011), public domain

The One

man-1245658_640

 

The One

I’ll be the one to grow old without pain,
I’ll be the exception.
Others have tried to gain before gain
always to face rejection.

I’ll be the one to avoid creaky knees.
Arthritis, bad back I’ll resist.
Stay active, stay strong, get plenty of z’s,
I’ll check every box on the list.

I’ll be the one with no lasting disease.
Cholesterol, cancer—no way.
I’ll beat back genetics with veggies and teas.
Organic? I’m willing to pay.

I’ll be the one with an ever-sharp mind.
I’ll slow down not even a bit.
Confusion, dementia—I’ll leave them behind,
I’ll read and converse to stay fit.

Headstrong, determined, and foolish I go,
ignoring the reason One was made low.

He was the one who loved and obeyed
each of his thirty-three years.
Willing to suffer, he saw his strength fade
through anguish and blood-coated tears.

He was the one without sin of his own
who bore a hellish, foul load.
His heavenly army stayed back near the throne
as he stumbled up Calvary’s road.

He was the one who sought heaven’s joy
instead of power or ease.
The works of the devil and flesh to destroy,
the Father’s wrath to appease.

He is the one who’s readied a place
helping me properly long
for curse-free communion at last face to face
adopted and loved in the throng.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

What My Children Taught Me About Grace

father-551921_640

Daddy!

As I take my keys out of my pocket, the piano stops and the stampede begins. My children rush to the back door and fling it wide before I can unlock it. I am enveloped in hugs, and my day is made.

This is the scene at my house many times when I get home from work. It doesn’t always happen, and I don’t presume it will continue on indefinitely. (And it doesn’t happen only for me!) But, what a blessing it is! God has given my kids a love for me that I don’t deserve, and the occasional exuberance is wonderful.

This end-of-day greeting isn’t just a blessing of fatherhood. It’s a picture of God’s grace.

A Picture of Grace

I’m far from a perfect father. I’m frequently impatient, too quick to anger, and sometimes just mean or clumsy with my children’s feelings. In an honest accounting, I don’t deserve the extravagant love my children show me.

But my children give me what I don’t deserve. Instead of a cold shoulder, they embrace me. Instead of hesitating, they run. They let me know, unmistakably, that they are glad to see me.

I feel immediate acceptance when I peer through our back window and see those small, smiling faces. I don’t need to bring anything, say anything, or do anything. In that moment, their love does not depend on what I have done for them or what I might do for them. The greeting I receive has no relation to my recent behavior toward them at all—on most days I haven’t seen them for almost eight hours.

This sounds familiar, right? My children’s love is a small, imperfect pointer toward the grace of God. His constant, lavish, maximum love toward those who don’t deserve it—this is his grace and the heartbeat of the Christian life.

A Biblical Truth

Don’t just take my word for it. And don’t let a sentimental fact about my family convince you God is like this. This picture resonates with me because it is the description of divine love we see in the Bible.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8–12, ESV)

And God’s grace is fully and finally realized in the giving of his son for sinners.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3–7, ESV)

Embracing Grace

Grace like this demands a response. Overflowing love, once offered, changes us in one way or another.

Do you know the grace of God? You have never been loved like this, so it might seem unreal. And yet, it is certain. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can enter God’s house. We don’t need to sneak in a window, we don’t knock ashamed—God opens the door himself.

He is glad to see you. He invites you to sit down with him and rest. And the music starts to play once again.


Photo Credit: Petra (2014), public domain

A Parable on the Reading of Blogs

paint-1394387_640

Once there was a land that needed a new governor. So the king sent to this land a certain young, well-respected man. Though this man did not know the land he was sent to govern, both the man and the people were excited.

The man and his wife moved into the governor’s mansion, hired a staff, and began to settle in. The mansion was enormous, far larger than any place they had lived before, and there was one wing of the mansion for which they could think of no use.

The governor wanted to get to know his people. It was his habit to take long walks in the morning for exercise, so he ended each walk at the city market.

The market was expansive and busy, filled with the sights, smells, and noises you would expect. Since his staff did his shopping, he had no need to linger by the meats, produce, or baked goods. Instead, he spent most of his time with the artists.

The governor had been raised to love art in every form. He adored music, theater, sculpture, and photography, but he prized paintings above all. He couldn’t get enough.

This city had a thriving community of established and aspiring painters, so the artists’ section of the market was sprawling. New booths popped up weekly. Some sold cheap imitations or outright forgeries, but there were many paintings of astonishing skill, beauty, and insight. The governor’s stroll through the market always left him refreshed and inspired.

After several months, the governor began to feel different after his walks. His brain felt busy, like it was always spinning and never resting. The flood of new paintings was overwhelming, and though he feared missing a gem, he began to wonder about the effect on his soul.

The governor was troubled. He knew exceptional artists at the market—their work deserved more attention. But they couldn’t compete with the volume and speed of the marketplace. They made a living, but their paintings had little impact.

The governor returned from the market one morning, these thoughts swimming in his head. As he walked through the house to meet his wife for lunch, he passed the unused wing of the mansion. An idea struck him in an instant.

He would turn the east wing of the mansion into a gallery. He would preserve the best art in the city by displaying it himself. His gallery would be open to the public on a limited basis, but he could walk through the rooms whenever he wanted.

His wife embraced the idea immediately. Over the next months, the couple visited the market together and carefully purchased the best paintings they saw. Some works depicted scenes of terrific, arresting beauty. Others showed heartbreaking loss, tragedy, or loneliness. Still others championed hope, truth, or forgiveness.

Most paintings would have a limited run in the gallery. Some of the works spoke to the political and social issues of the moment. Others, because of his mood or particular moment in life, struck a note within the governor that might never ring again. But the governor and his wife were delighted to give these paintings an extended life. They hired a curator.

The governor wasn’t trying to make a huge statement with his gallery. He knew he had a lot to learn, and if other citizens wanted to join him, all the better.

The governor continued to visit the artists’ booths in the market periodically. But he learned that lingering over a painting or two in his gallery was almost always better for his soul.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.


Photo Credit: Rudy and Peter Skitterians (2016), public domain

The Trinity Makes All the Difference

What is God like? It’s hard to imagine a more important question.

Different faiths answer this question differently. Is God the same as nature? Is God found inside every person? Is God one, all-powerful, and distant?

At the heart of Christianity stands a triune God.

For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation, and salvation of this God, the triune God. (Delighting in the Trinity, pp.15,16)

In reading Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, I saw how vital God’s nature is to Christianity. It affects everything! If we begin elsewhere, we simply do not end up with biblical Christianity.

The Path to the Trinity

Most cultural discussions about God begin with (or assume) the foundation of God as creator. But is this the best starting place? Is God’s primary identity his role as Creator?

Michael Reeves says no.

First of all, if God’s very identity is to be The Creator, The Ruler, then he needs a creation to rule in order to be who he is. For all his cosmic power, then, this God turns out to be pitifully weak: he needs us. (Reeves, p.19)

Reeves goes on to show that the salvation a primarily-Creator God can offer is unsatisfying and, ultimately, self-contradictory. He writes that our relationship with such a god is similar to our relationship to the police.

If, as never happens, some fine cop were to catch me speeding and so breaking the rules, I would be punished; if, as never happens, he failed to spot me or I managed to shake him off after an exciting car chase, I would be relieved. But in neither case would I love him. And even if, like God, he chose to let me off the hook for my law-breaking, I still would not love him. I might feel grateful, and that gratitude might be deep, but that is not at all the same thing as love. And so it is with the divine policeman: if salvation simply means him letting me off and counting me as a law-abiding citizen, then gratitude (not love) is all I have. In other words, I can never really love the God who is essentially just The Ruler. And that, ironically, means I can never keep the greatest command: to love the Lord my God. (Reeves, p.20)

An alternative way to think about God is simply this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The fact that Jesus is a Son means that he has a Father. “That is who God has revealed himself to be: not first and foremost Creator or Ruler, but Father.” (Reeves, p.21)

This starting place is not merely philosophical, it is Jesus’s own stance. In John 17:24 Jesus says that the Father loved him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world. Before there was any created matter, with nothing to rule, God was a Father loving his Son.

The biblical faith is a Trinitarian faith, and the biblical calls to faith are thoroughly Trinitarian .

John wrote his gospel, he tells us, so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). But even that most basic call to believe in the Son of God is an invitation to a Trinitarian faith. Jesus is described as the Son of God. God is his Father. And he is the Christ, the one anointed with the Spirit. When you start with the Jesus of the Bible, it is a triune God that you get. (Reeves, p.37)

Creation

reevesI’m late to the party on Delighting in the Trinity. The book was published in 2012 and appeared on several best-of lists that year. But the truths in this book are timeless, and Reeves writes with such clarity, cheer, and care that this was easily the best book I read in 2016. My socks, as they say, were knocked clear off.

Throughout the book, Reeves contrasts the Trinity with a single-person god. More than just a philosophical exercise, this strategy shows just how different the God of the Bible is and how dramatically his trinitarian nature affects everything.

Take creation—would a single-person god create?

Single-person gods, having spent eternity alone, are inevitably self-centered beings, and so it becomes hard to see why they would ever cause anything else to exist. Wouldn’t the existence of a universe be an irritating distraction for the god whose greatest pleasure is looking in a mirror? Creating just looks like a deeply unnatural thing for such a god to do. And if such gods do create, they always seem to do so out of an essential neediness or desire to use what they create merely for their own self-gratification. (Reeves, p.41)

Following Karl Barth, Reeves explains why creating is natural for the Christian God.

Since God the Father has eternally loved his Son, it is entirely characteristic of him to turn and create others that he might also love them. Now Barth is absolutely not saying that God the Son was created or is in any way less than fully God. It is that the Father has always enjoyed loving another, and so the act of creation by which he creates others to love seems utterly appropriate for him. (42)

Reeves explains that the fellowship and love within the Trinity overflows in creation. Our God is not primarily aloof and alone, but he enjoys loving, blessing, and declaring creation “good.”

Salvation

The triune nature of God also makes sense of our sin and salvation.

The nature of the triune God makes all the difference in the world to understanding what went wrong when Adam and Eve fell. It means something happened deeper than rule-breaking and misbehavior: we perverted love and rejected him, the one who made us to love and be loved by him. (Reeves, p.68)

If God is trinitarian and made us in his image, then “we are created to delight in harmonious relationship, to love God, to love each other.” (Reeves, p.65) Our sin is fundamentally a lack of love or a turning of our love.

So, why did Jesus come? Why did God want to restore relationship with us?

Without the cross, we could never have imagined the depth and seriousness of what it means to say that God is love. […] Jesus’ self-giving love is entirely unconstrained and free. It comes, not from any necessity, but entirely out of who he is, the glory of his Father. Through the cross we see a God who delights to give himself. […][T]he Father sent his son to make himself known—meaning not that he wanted simply to download some information about himself, but that the love the Father eternally had for the Son might be in those who believe in him, and that we might enjoy the Son as the Father always has. (Reeves, p.69)

This underlines the uniqueness of the trinitarian nature of God.

Here, then, is a salvation no single-person God would offer even if they wanted to: the Father so delights in his eternal love for the Son that he desires to share it with all who will believe. Ultimately, the Father sent the Son because the Father so loved the Son—and wanted to share that love and fellowship. His love for the world is the overflow of his almighty love for his Son. (Reeves, p.69–70)

The result of the salvation Jesus accomplished is therefore also trinitarian.

The Father so loves that he desires to catch us up into that loving fellowship he enjoys with the Son. And that means I can know God as he truly is: as Father. In fact, I can know the Father as my Father. (Reeves, p.71)

Clearly the salvation of this God is better even than forgiveness, and certainly more secure. Other gods might offer forgiveness, but this God welcomes and embraces us as his children, never to send us away. (For children do not get disowned for being naughty.) (Reeves, p.76)

How would salvation look different with a single-person God?

If God was not a Father, he could never give us the right to be his children. If he did not enjoy eternal fellowship with his Son, one has to wonder if he would have any fellowship to share with us, or if he would even know what fellowship looks like. […] If the Son himself had never been close to the Father, how could he bring us close? (Reeves, p.77)

Everything Else

The triune nature of God affects everything: creation, salvation, and so much more. Here’s just a sample.

Because God is triune, the church is a family.

But the triune God’s delight in family still stands. And so the Father sends the Son, not only to reconcile us to himself, but to reconcile us to each other in order that the world might be a place of harmony, reflecting their harmony. […] The Spirit wins male and female, black and white, Jew and Gentile all to the same uniting love of God which spills over into a heartfelt love of one another. He unites us to the Son so that together we cry “Abba” and begin to know each other truly as brothers and sisters. For the new humanity is a new family; it is the spreading family of the Father. (Reeves, p.103)

Because God is triune, missions are about the nature of God.

For it is not, then, that God lounges back in heaven, simply phoning in his order that we get on with evangelism so that he might get more servants. If that were the case, evangelism would take a lot of self-motivation—and you can always tell when the church thinks like that, for that’s when evangelism gets left to the more adrenaline-stoked salespeople/professionals. But the reality is so different. The truth is that God is already on mission: in love, the Father has sent his Son and his Spirit. It is the outworking of his very nature. (Reeves, p.105)

Reeves goes on to show how the biblical picture of God informs many of the words we use about God, like holiness, wrath, and glory.

Because the Trinity affects everything, there’s more to ponder. For example, how does the Trinity affect apologetics? Reeves argues that:

It is crucially important, then, that Christians be clear and specific about which God we believe in. We must not be heard to believe in just any “God,” but in this God. Today that seems especially vital. (Reeves, p.112)

How should we talk about God with unbelievers? Should we introduce the Trinity right away, or should we establish some common ground first?

This is a short book, and so it cannot and should not cover everything. But it covers so much, so well. The glorious, loving truth of the triune nature of God will probably take a lifetime (and then some) to unpack, but I’m glad I’ve started the journey. If you’d like to begin a similar hike, I can’t recommend Delighting in the Trinity more highly.


Disclosure: the links to Amazon.com in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press

The Default Posture of Love

active-1853657_640

It was a delightfully ordinary morning. I was well-rested, blessed by the routines of both the previous evening and the present day. I was enjoying the silence and stillness. Then my children awoke.

Though this happens every day, something was different. I was immediately on edge, listening critically to their conversation and actions. I felt like a coiled spring, ready to bounce upstairs to correct, scold, or yell at the slightest provocation.

Default Positions

We all know a bit about defaults. A default is a position assumed automatically without active choice. We’ve all accidentally subscribed to an email newsletter (or fifty) because we didn’t uncheck the proper box.

On this particular morning, my default position toward my children was one of suspicion and anger. Before they said or did anything, I took on an adversarial stance; I assumed they would soon need correction or discipline. I’m convicted as I remember this attitude, because it’s simply not the way a Christian should think about his kids.

A False View of God

Christian fathers have a weighty task. Whenever they interact with their children, they speak about God’s fatherhood. Like it or not, kids will learn what God is like as a father (in part) by watching, playing with, and listening to their dad.

In my posture toward my children, I was promoting a false view of God.

The culture at large thinks of God as a scold, a grade-school nun eager to draw blood from knuckles with a ruler. The clear, Scriptural evidences of God’s holiness and judgment are used to paint God as perpetually angry, just waiting for us to sin so he can strike. He may be merciful, but only as a last-second shield from his wrath.

These conceptions of God do not square with the biblical picture, especially for Christians.

The True View of God

If you are a Christian, God loves you (1 John 4:10). Your faith is an evidence of his love. He cannot love you any more, and he cannot love you any less. Full stop.

There is not a drop of his wrath remaining toward you (Rom 8:1). Every last ounce was wrung out on Jesus in your place (Rom 5:6–11). Because he is just, God is not waiting for you to fall. (Though he will pick you up when you do.)

Of course, God disciplines us as a loving father (Heb 12:3–11). But God’s discipline comes as needed, in just the right measure and at just the right time. It is never extraneous or excessive; it is never vengeful or disproportionate. His discipline is perfect and perfectly loving.

In short, God’s posture toward us is one of love.

A Godly Vision of Fatherhood

Perhaps the application for parents is clear. Our default posture toward our children must be one of love and peace. We should rejoice at the God-given relationship we have. Friends come and go, but these will be our children forever. Instead of suspicion and anger, my resting state with my children must be warmth and joy, especially if I am to teach them about God.

This posture doesn’t excuse sin or disobedience. In fact, it provides the biblical context for addressing disobedience.

I can love because I am loved. I can help because I have been helped. I can forgive because I have been forgiven. I can correct, guide, and instruct because my Father does the same for me.

For yourself, and for your children, this makes all the difference in the world.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain