Christianity 201

December 17, 2013

Grace Arrives on the Scene

It was just three months ago that we featured the writing of Paul Tautges at the blog Counseling One Another. Normally, we wait six months to return to particular source here, but I want you to be sure to check out some of his other writing, not to mention how much I enjoyed today’s featured post, which is appropriate to the season.  Click to read Grace Has Arrived on the Scene.

Grace is the gift of God brought to sinners through the giving of His Son who willingly humbled Himself, dwelt among us, died a cruel death in our place, and was raised from the dead to give us life. This is the gospel. Romans 1:1-7 is a one-sentence, 126-word, announcement of good news from God. Alva McClain writes, “The literary construction of this sentence is very beautiful, and the unfolding of the ideas exquisite! It is almost like the unfolding of a flower—first the stalk, then the bud, then the full bloom, then the heart of it!” (p. 34). The author of this text is Paul, formerly Saul the persecutor of the church.

  • Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ: Six different words could have been chosen by Paul to explain his servitude, but he chose the strongest, the most absolute servitude. Doulos = slave, one purchased from the slave market of sin.
  • Paul was called to be an apostle: To be an apostle, by New Testament definition, two things had to be true of the man. He had to have seen the Lord (Paul did when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus). He had to have received his call directly from the Lord, which Paul was at the same time (both described in Acts 9).
  • Paul was separated unto the gospel: Paul was chosen by God to be an apostle. Galatians 1:15 indicates that God separated Paul out for this ministry while still in his mother’s womb. God called him to salvation (Acts 9), set him apart for the work of the gospel (Acts 13) for the purpose of spending his life announcing the Good News that God loves and saves sinners through repentance and faith in His Son. It is that gospel that is the very heart and soul of the message of these seven verses. Here we see three simple, foundational truths concerning the gospel.

The Gospel Is Good News from God (vv. 1-2). Paul calls this good news the “gospel of God.” It is God’s gospel. This gospel was “promised beforehand by the prophets.” So many Scriptures were perfectly fulfilled in the first advent of our Lord (see this encouraging article from Answers in Genesis)! Perhaps the greatest Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in our Savior’s death, burial, and resurrection is Isaiah 53. This good news from God was also “recorded in the Scriptures.” Paul stresses the importance of this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

 

The Gospel Is Good News about Jesus (vv. 3-4). The gospel concerns God’s Son. This sounds very simple, but it is very significant. The gospel is not about you; the gospel is not about me. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. He is the center of it all. Jesus was born of “a descendant of David” according to the flesh. Matthew’s genealogy, in particular, traces the lineage of Jesus back to King David. He began, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1). This was to establish the fact that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David. He is the long, promised King of Israel. Jesus was born “according to the flesh.” Jesus is fully human. He is the God-man who broke into earth’s history to rescue us from our sin, and He did this in accordance with God’s perfect timing (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus was declared the Son of God by His resurrection. The first advent of Jesus, as a descendant of David according to the flesh, presents his humanity. The resurrection of Jesus was a declaration of His deity. He is God in the flesh. He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is because of His resurrection that we may have new life. Four names and titles are used of Jesus in these verses.

  • Son = defines His relationship to the Father
  • Jesus = speaks of His humanity, He is “the salvation of Jehovah”
  • Christ = His office as the Messiah
  • Lord = His exalted position. He is the Lord Jehovah.

The Gospel Is Good News for Sinners (vv. 5-7). The good news is that the gospel turns sinners into saints. Here believers are described in three ways:

  • Believers are called of [by] Jesus Christ. By means of the gospel, Jesus Christ calls sinners to Himself. He offers us forgiveness, new life, and peace (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • Believers are loved by God. Isn’t this an amazing description?! We are sinners loved by God (John 3:16)! It is true that we are—right now, this very minute—children of God! (1 John 3:2).
  • Believers are called to be saints. Believers are saints by calling, not by deed. When God saves us from our sin He, at the same time, calls us to Himself. He sets us apart. Alva McClain: “God never goes to a sinner and tells him to try to attain to sainthood. He picks us out of the mud, and He says, ‘You are a saint.’”

God has given us good news. The good news is that grace has arrived on the scene. Grace has been given to desperate, fallen humanity. The gospel is the message of grace, which saves us when we first become a Christian., but the gospel continues to preach to us—day after day—that God’s grace is enough for us. God loves sinners. What a wonder that is!! There is no greater news. There is no greater message. God’s grace has arrived. And it is found in His Son, the Lord Jesus.

February 13, 2013

“Before Abraham Was Born, I Am”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” —John 8:58

Today we look at the “I am” passage in John 8.  To Jesus’ hearers, the statement would be reminiscent of these words in Exodus 13:

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,    the name you shall call me    from generation to generation.

Dr. Charles Price, pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada wrote on this recently:

It is no wonder many people in Jesus’ day had difficulty with him. Statements like this were so outlandish and ridiculous to the human ear, and blasphemous to the Jewish ear.

Of course, anyone can make bizarre claims, so the question is: Are the claims of Jesus true or false? If the claims are false, they are false for one of two reasons. Either because He knew they were false – which would make Him bad, or He didn’t know they were false, which would make Him mad. If, however, they were true, He was God. These are the only three options open to us, if the record of His words is true. It is not an option to say He was merely a ‘good man’, for a good man who was not divine, would not make the statements Jesus made about ‘coming from above’, or being in existence before Abraham!

If Jesus was a bad man, deliberately deceiving people, then He is the biggest confidence trickster in history. Today there are almost two billion people who claim, in some measure, an allegiance to Jesus Christ. If He was mad, He would join the ranks of many mad men in history, like Rasputin for instance, but for whom time would confirm their insanity.

From the logic of the situation alone, Jesus’ claims to be pre-existent and sent from His Father carry strong claim to be true. One of the things He said was that He would be crucified and then rise again after three days. That happened exactly as He said it would.

Don’t make the mistake of saying that in some way Jesus became the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. No, He was eternally the Son of God, but, “He was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.” It is His resurrection from the dead – the fulfillment of one of His naturally impossible claims – which declares and affirms who He is, the Son of God.

And that is why the gospel is much more than the teaching of Jesus. It’s about the person of Jesus Himself – the One who is alive!

Matthew Henry writes:

…[H]e does not say, I was, but I am, for he is the first and the last, immutably the same (Rev. 1:8); thus he was not only before Abraham, but before all worlds, John 1:1; Prov. 8:23As Mediator. He was the appointed Messiah, long before Abraham; the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), the channel of conveyance of light, life, and love from God to man. This supposes his divine nature, that he is the same in himself from eternity (Heb. 13:8), and that he is the same to man ever since the fall; he was made of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, to Adam, and Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Shem, and all the patriarchs that lived and died by faith in him before Abraham was born.

Abraham was the root of the Jewish nation, the rock out of which they were hewn. If Christ was before Abraham, his doctrine and religion were no novelty, but were, in the substance of them, prior to Judaism, and ought to take place of it.

This verse is central to the deity of Christ, and because of this you need to exercise extreme caution and discernment when encountering opinions about its interpretation online, especially if you don’t know the author or organization behind a particular blog or website.  Many of the websites claim that the passage was understood differently than we read it today, because they don’t teach the absolute deity of Jesus.

To that, I would simply suggest that one turn to John 10, and see what the reaction was to one of Jesus’ other statements about his divinity:

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

The “oneness” Jesus claimed is not something rooted in mysticism. He was claiming equality with God, and his words were understood by his hearers to mean that he was claiming equality with God.