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By In Theology, Worship

Confessing Jesus as Lord

Writing into a Roman context to tell people that the proper response to the gospel was to confess “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10.9) would have been provocative. “Lord” was the designation given to Caesar. Caesar was Lord and all other loyalties were subservient to him. You may pray your prayers to the god of your choice, but at the end of the day, when push came to shove, your god must submit to the will of Caesar. Everything, including your loyalties to your gods, must serve the greater purpose of the Empire and, more particularly, Caesar himself. To declare that there was a loyalty that was higher than Caesar to which one must submit was subversive to the unity of the Empire. If one dared to challenge Caesar in this regard, the full weight of Rome would come down upon him. Many of our fathers and mothers who confessed Jesus as Lord endured the consequence of challenging Caesar.

But Paul’s call was much deeper than the present empire situation. Sure, this was the situation into which he wrote. The Caesar situation was the challenge of his day where the rubber met the road concerning the implications of allegiance to Christ. However, in the section of the letter to the Romans in which this call to confession is found, Paul is speaking concerning the Jewish situation and their allegiances. Caesars come and go. Empires rise and fall. But the Jews worshiped the one true and living God: YHWH. Echoing what he has already claimed in Romans 9.5–that Jesus is God over all, blessed forever–Paul attributes to Jesus the word commonly used to refer to YHWH in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint): kyrios. Jesus is YHWH, the one true and living God, and, therefore, Lord over all. Failure to worship him is to reject the God of Abraham.

Confession of Jesus as Lord in response to the gospel changes everything for Jew and Gentile. Jesus has been declared Lord of the world by God the Father. Every area of life–from my individual life to the structures of nations–belongs to him and is to be conscious submission to him.

Consequently, the call of the gospel is an all-or-nothing commitment. Either a person comes to submit to Jesus as the one true and living God, having his life arranged under his lordship, or he is an enemy of Christ. If you were a Jew living in the first century, that meant giving up the old distinctions of he Law, confessing that Christ was the end of the Law (Rom 10.4). If you were a pagan Gentile living in the first century, that meant giving up your idols and not merely adding Jesus to the pantheon of gods to be worshiped. For all in the first century it meant that Jesus’ lordship over your life superceded every other lordship in the world, including the lordship of Caesar.

For twenty-first century Americans, the call of the gospel remains the same though the situations have changed. Confessing Jesus as Lord means the re-ordering of the way that I think and live. It means that no other loyalty supercedes loyalty to Jesus. All other loyalties are subservient to and are to serve the cause of Christ and his kingdom. We cannot confess the American creed that we are all “Americans first” and then Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. Our allegiance to Jesus is not a slave to the “indivisible” nation. Friends and family, though good things, can never become idols that take my primary loyalty so that I will disobey Christ Jesus. Money or some position in the world cannot be the god that controls my life. I must have my thinking and the order of my life arranged under the lordship of Jesus.

Submitting to Jesus’ lordship is not an optional extra to the call of the gospel. It is the necessary response to the gospel. Because Jesus loves us and knows that any idol we serve as equal to or above him will destroy us, he cannot allow us to serve these other idols along side him. Though we all progress in different ways and at various rates in our growth in our understanding of Jesus’ lordship in our lives, submission to that lordship is not optional no matter our situation. Whether you are turning from a lifestyle of sexual immorality or covetousness, all idols must be forsaken. Idols of the lower class and idols of the upper class, idols of Africa or idols of America, must all be forsaken. If and when people forsake these idols, then and only then is the promise of salvation theirs.

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By In Theology

The Right Way To Be Right

All men long to be justified. That is, all men long to be in the right, to be vindicated. In our sin we seek this vindication in various ways and from different sources. We need approval. We need to know that we are accepted by someone. So we look to certain people to tell us that we are approved and accepted. It may be parents, friends, co-workers, or a myriad of other people. Whatever they tell us to do or we perceive that they want us to do, we will strive to do whatever it takes to gain their acceptance; to hear from them, “Well done.”

This longing for justification or righteousness is woven into the fabric of who we are as images of God. God created us as his images to be “in the right” with him. We were created to be a part of his family; to love what he loves, hate what he hates, and to share his agenda. As we would participate in the Divine Family culture, working in love together with the Father, Son, and Spirit, we would hear from the Father, “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” Vindication.

But sin has caused us to seek our justification from other sources and in perverted ways. We still want justification from God, but we want it on our terms. We set up ways to be justified by God that are contrary to what he has revealed. Instead of submitting to what God has revealed in Christ Jesus, we have a better way to order our relationship with God and, consequently, with one another and the world around us. We have a way of justification of which God will surely approve.

These ways of justification take on many forms. There is that classic form with which many of us are probably familiar: merit-based justification. If our good works outweigh our bad works, then God will count us as his children. If we can go through the right motions, do the proper religious things, we will appease God and he will have to accept us.

Merit-based justification is one way people try to be justified by God, but this is not the only form that works righteousness (that is, justification by works) takes. Works righteousness is the establishment of any way of seeking vindication from God that runs contrary to and refuses to submit to what God has revealed. Works righteousness says, “I know better than God how to order my life and the world around me. I like my way better than his.” Works righteousness says, “All I need is to know right doctrines, but I don’t have to worry about loving my brothers.” Works righteousness says, “I can be sexually immoral and still be vindicated by God because I prayed the sinner’s prayer and have been baptized.” Works righteousness says, “I am right with God even though I haven’t forgiven my brothers.”

What is perverted about works righteousness as it appears in these ways is that it uses the word “grace” to cover its tracks. My life can be lived in total opposition to God’s revealed will, but God is gracious. “Grace” becomes a way to set up our own way of being righteous in rebellion against God.

In contrast to works righteousness is faith righteousness. Faith righteousness seeks vindication from God by fully submitting to what God has revealed. The righteousness which is by faith says, “Whatever God reveals will shape my thinking and the way I live my life.” If God says that forgiveness of my sins and right standing with him is in Christ alone, then I submit to that and know that I am accepted by God in Christ alone. If God says that I need to love my brothers, then I will strive to love my brothers. If God says to keep myself from sexual immorality, then I will strive to keep myself from sexual immorality. If God says, “Forgive,” then I will forgive. Faith righteousness accepts and submits to whatever God has revealed and pledges full allegiance to the Divine Family. The righteousness by faith is the faith that accepts God’s righteousness in total: forgiveness of sins and right standing in Christ alone as well as being in line with God’s agenda for my life.

We all long to be justified. But there is only one right way to be in the right: the righteousness by faith revealed in Christ Jesus.

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By In Theology, Worship

Do This

Rev. Dr. James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis Institute. This post was originally found at Biblical Horizons.

(The essay that follows concerns a rather touchy subject: how the Lord’s Supper is to be done. I am not writing to insult or offend, but to challenge. To that end I have not “held back” but have “gone ahead” and said what I think needs to be said — for your consideration.)

There is only one ritual commanded in the New Testament for routine use in the Church: the ritual of the Lord’s Supper. I believe that Satan does not want the Church to do the rite of the Lord’s Supper, and has expended tremendous energy to prevent our doing it the way Jesus said to do it. (more…)

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By In Theology

Understanding Romans 3:21-26 in Context

Romans was an important book in the sixteenth-century Reformation, as was the topic of how one was justified in the sight of God. And one part of the cultural revolution that occurs was over how sins were punished. For instance, here are a couple of Martin Luther’s theses:

– The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.

– The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.

Our passage in Romans 3 has something to say about that, but let’s remember some of the context.

Paul tells the Romans early on that he’s not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). It would be interesting to consider why Paul would even bring up the possibility of being ashamed of the Gospel, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

Paul also says that, in the Gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Romans 1:17). That’s a wordplay and there is some debate on what Paul meant. I think he is referencing that God’s righteousness is revealed from God’s faithfulness to our faith. There are parallels in Romans 3 that I think point to that understanding.

But it is noteworthy that Paul goes on to say that not only is God’s righteousness revealed in the Gospel, but God’s wrath is revealed from heaven (Romans 1:18).

Now here is where I think we can go wrong and miss Paul’s point about how God wrath is involved in his Gospel. What follows from Romans 1:18 is not a description of God’s wrath but of the human behavior and unbelief that provokes God’s wrath.

(more…)

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By In Theology

Loving the Idea of the Church or Loving the Church?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this is the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Celebrations are going on all around the world, and rightly so. Though the cause for and the consequences of the Reformation are sad in many respects, there is much for which we can be thankful. It is sad that the Western Church fell into such moral and doctrinal error that such a radical surgery had to occur. But we are grateful that God had mercy on us by delivering us from the errors that corrupted the church. It is sad that the unintended consequence of the Reformation was the splintering of the church into denominations. But we are grateful that God is sanctifying his church through our differences and will one day bring the entire church back together in perfect unity in accordance with the prayer of our Savior.

Much has been done. There is still much to do. As Protestant churches are infused once again with this sense of our historical identity, it can be a temptation to get into a “reformation mode” that is characterized by a zeal for what the church ought to be, falling in love with the idea or ideal of the church, but not loving the church as she is.

There is nothing wrong with ideals. They are necessary to keep us pressing forward. Through the history of the world God himself has laid out the standards for which his people ought to strive. Through his direct commands as well as imaging his people in the Tabernacle, Temple, and the New Jerusalem (Rev 21–22), we are given the standards, the ideals, for which we are to strive.

But sometimes we fall in love with the idea of the church instead of loving the church itself; the church as she is and not just what she ought to be. We imagine this place of perfect peace and harmony, where everyone is doing what is right, and we are laughing and joyful all the time. We love that place. But that is not the church we are a part of. It is out there somewhere, we are sure, but it is not the church of which I am presently a part.

In our love for the ideal, we can lose sight of the fact that peace and harmony in a sinful world come through forgiveness of the sins of others and their forgiveness of my sins. Joy in the church comes through longsuffering with one another, bearing the pain and hurt of, with, and from others. We servants are not greater than our Lord. If he had to endure suffering for the joy that was set before him (Heb 12.1-2), how much more will we have to endure suffering in order to enter joy?

Loving the church involves loving both God’s ideal for the church and the church as she is right now in history. Loving God’s ideal for the church keeps us encouraging one another to press forward. Loving God’s church as she is right now keeps us remembering that this is a lifelong process. We must be patiently content with where we are but never satisfied.

If you find yourself always discontent with the church, restless, nothing is ever good enough, not satisfied with progress, always thinking that some other church situation must be better, it might be that you are more in love with the idea of the church rather than loving the church itself. Sure, there is always reformation that needs to take place in the church. Part of that reformation might just be learning contentment with and loving the people who sit with you in worship every Sunday.

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By In Culture, Theology, Worship

Does ‘Sola Scriptura’ Mean What You Think It Means?

“This is the only book I need,” says the evangelical, holding up his Bible. “We don’t recite creeds at my church,” says another, pointing to hers. Anyone who has spent much time in low-church Protestant circles will be familiar with these Bible-only sentiments. But how well do they square with the Reformation idea of Scripture alone? Is this what the Reformers meant? (more…)

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By In Theology

John’s Wedding Party

Guest post by Jacob Gucker

Interpreters of the fourth Gospel have long noted that it begins very similarly to the book of Genesis. John’s description of the opening days of Jesus’ ministry reads as if it is echoing the words of the six-day creation sequence from the book of beginnings. Most scholars favor the idea that the wedding at Cana falls on the seventh day, completing the first week of the new creation with man and woman together and the wine of the new age flowing abundantly. Others suggest that the wedding falls on the 6th day, the wedding at Cana echoing the creation of man and woman.

There are other themes from the rest of Genesis in the opening chapters. For instance, we see the dove that once hovered over the flood now coming down to light upon Jesus at His baptism. And, just as Jacob saw angels descending and ascending on a stairway to heaven, Jesus claims that His disciples will see the angels doing the same on Him. Furthermore, just as Noah provided rest in the form of wine after the great flood, Jesus turns an abundance of water into wine at the wedding feast, symbolizing the genesis of a new age.

Commentators agree that chapters 2-4 are a distinct literary unit because of the inclusio in 4:46 which informs the reader that Jesus has returned to Cana where He turned the water into wine. Scholars refer to this unit as a “Cana to Cana cycle.” I propose that John intended this unit to be a chiastic recapitulation of Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” I also propose that this unit works as a literary “day” on which the “Sun of Righteousness” comes out of His chamber like a bridegroom and, like a strong man runs His course with joy. (more…)

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