How to Handle the World’s Hostility

I recently began preaching through the first epistle of Peter. It’s already been such an encouraging book—pertinent to the context in which we find ourselves today—as the apostle writes to instruct believers on how to maintain hope and holiness in an increasingly hostile culture. Peter wrote his two letters to Christians in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor who were facing rising hostility because of their faith in Christ—because their faith makes them different. They’ve been transferred to a new society, they no longer belong to the world, and the world recognizes that. They are experiencing an uncomfortable shift in social status. They face suspicion, distrust, social displacement. They’re being shamed by their neighbors and fellow countrymen; and Peter writes to encourage them that while they face dishonor and disgrace in the view of the world, their trust in Christ will result in their future vindication. Their faith and hope in Christ will not disappoint. Ultimately, “the honor is for you who believe” (1 Peter 2:7).

A very good and important book on this subject is called “Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity,” by David deSilva. Below, I want to share a few quotes in which deSilva explains the way the New Testament authors encourage Christians facing the dishonor of the surrounding culture by reorienting the believers to their new society, their new family, and their new primary court of reputation. I hope you find these snippets as encouraging as I did. And then I hope you go buy the book—it’s really quite phenomenal.

“Like the leaders of other minority cultures in the first century, New Testament authors were also careful continually to point the members of the Christian group away from the opinion that non-Christians might form of them toward the opinion of those who would reflect the values of the group and reinforce the individual’s commitment to establish his or her honor and self-respect in terms of those group values. It is the latter group that must constitute the ‘court of reputation,’ the sole body of significant others whose approval or disapproval should be important to the individual. Most prominent within this court of reputation is God, whose central place is assured because of God’s power to enforce his estimation of who deserves honor and who merits censure.”

“God’s power to place the final stamp of approval or censure is brought into sharp focus by the conviction that God has appointed a day (see Acts 17:31)—the Day of Judgment—when he will hold the whole world accountable to his standards. On that day, God will award grants of honor to those who have lived to please him and heap disgrace upon those who have lived contrary to his values.”

“These authors repeatedly underscore the contrasting, indeed often contradictory, courses of action commended by God and one’s society… Awareness of this difference continues to insulate believers against society’s attempts to shame them, since the Christians know they pursue a more lasting and significant grant of honor. In John’s Gospel, concern for the estimation of other people cripples discipleship.”

“It is also crucial that the Christian not continue to seek the approval of his or her non-Christian neighbors on the basis of religious activity, since this would draw him or her back into the piety of the pre-Christian existence for the sake of pleasing the neighbor and recovering a good reputation.”

“The unbelievers form again an unreliable court of reputation, commending what is actually wicked and shameful (see Phil 3:18-19). Their very sense of honor and value is upside down, as their lives testify. Therefore, the Christian experiencing their pressure to ‘join them in the same excesses of dissipation’ (1 Pet 4:4.) should not be moved away from his or her honorable course of action.”

“The believers are also assured that the hostility of these unbelievers—the hostility with which they hope to pressure the Christian back into conformity with the dominant culture’s way of life—is itself displeasing to God and incurs God’s wrath (1 Thess 2:14-16). Knowing this will also help the believers endure rather than surrender to those measures that not only assail the Christian but bring down God’s anger on the outsiders.”

“[The New Testament authors seek to prevent] the experience of insult, scorn and shame from having its intended affect on the Christians by pointing out the ignorance and shamelessness of the outsiders (that is to say, by explaining that the people censuring the believers are themselves incapable of rendering reliable judgments about the noble and the shameful).”

“The predictability or normalcy of the experiences, the commendation of perseverance as a means of demonstrating loyalty and courage… [are] intended by New Testament authors to inform and protect the group from being pulled back into the values of the majority culture.”

To learn more about honor, shame, and what the Bible has to say about it, read the articles here, and here, or listen to them on our new podcast, By the Way!

Easter Reflections on the Promise and the Provision

Why did the disciples have such a hard time understanding Christ’s mission on earth? To us it seems so obvious. Where did this confusion come from?

Throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, there were two lines of salvific hope — two lines of redemption. One begins in Genesis 3:15, with the promise of the seed of the woman, who would destroy the tempter, and rescue mankind from the curse brought upon them (and the whole universe). The other line begins in Genesis 3:21, with the provision of the animal skins — the shed blood, of an innocent victim, of God’s provision, to cover the guilt and shame of man’s sin.

The first line is a promise of a deliverer, and the second is of a covering — of an atonement. These two themes of redemptive hope, the promise, and the provision, run parallel throughout the entire Old Testament. And as time goes on through progressive revelation, the revelatory content of these two truths expands, but they are still two separate promises, and you can trace these all the way through. The Old Testament saints were looking forward to both the promise of a Messiah — a king who would conquer the enemy and rescue mankind — and the provision of a covering for their sins.

Now, we know, because we’re looking back, that that all was really one promise. We know that the deliverer, was also the covering. But those two lines of hope run parallel to each other, and they don’t explicitly meet… until the cross.

And when Jesus comes offering Himself as Messiah, those who believe Him understand that that means genesis 3:15. But when He starts telling His disciples, who have accepted Him as Messiah, that He is going to suffer and die, they’re horrified! Because He’s the Messiah, He’s going to be King, and they’re going to help Him get there!

And then, on Thursday night, April 2nd, 33 AD, soldiers come to arrest Jesus. And Peter proves his loyalty to Christ when he draws his sword to fight. And I think when Peter said, to Jesus, “I will never abandon you,” he meant it, and in the garden he shows that he meant it. So why did he deny Christ later that night? I think it’s because he thought that he proved his loyalty in Gethsemane, but Jesus rebuked him for it, and gave Himself up to the soldiers to be crucified. And Peter is so completely disillusioned, and he doesn’t understand what’s going on, because this is not supposed to happen to the coming king.

You see, Jesus was expected, to establish His kingdom in 33 AD, but what actually happened was that this man, who so many had come to believe was God come in the flesh and who was going to set up His messianic Kingdom… This man was arrested by the Romans and Jews, subjected to illegitimate trials through the night, beaten and scourged, and crucified on a Roman cross — the most impeccably excruciating, and humiliating form of execution known to man. And then He died, at 3:00 on Friday afternoon. And the hope of His followers, who had believed that he was the Messiah to come to conquer the enemy and rescue mankind, was dead, because their King was dead.

Well, see what happened was that the disciples didn’t connect those two lines of redemptive hope, the promise and the provision. And they couldn’t grasp that the messiah, the coming king, was first going to be Himself the ultimate provision — the perfect sacrifice given once and for all, to remove the condemnation of sin from humanity.

Hebrews 10:11 says, “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…” (emphasis added)

See, in the tabernacle (and then later in the temple), with all its splendor and accoutrements and precise careful instructions, there was one piece of furniture that was conspicuously absent — and that was a bench or a chair or something on which to sit down. This was to avoid the possibility of a priest ever running the risk of getting tired and thinking he could sit down for a moment, because that could give the impression that in some way his work was done; but the priest’s work was never done — there were always sacrifices to be made. But when Christ offered Himself as the sacrificial lamb, Hebrews 10:12 makes a big deal of the fact that Christ sat down — His work is finished. There are no more sacrifices to be made! The work is complete!

Then the next verse says that Christ is now waiting until his enemies are made His footstool. Because Jesus is coming back as a conquering king, and He is going to establish His kingdom here on earth (and we’re looking forward to that day)! But that’s not what He did the first time He came. He came to offer himself as a substitutionary sacrifice to take the penalty for sin that we deserve — to die the death that you and I deserved to die… to cleanse us of all our unrighteousness and to qualify us to be adopted into the family of the King!

And on that cross, when the weight of His body was putting such excruciating pressure on His lungs that even to take one breath he had to push Himself up — He had to stand up on the nails in His feet and scrape his raw, ribboned back against that rough wood — just to breathe. In the last moments, before He gave up His spirit, He whispered, “I thirst.” And we know now that crucifixion saps every last ounce of moisture out of the body, and Christ’s mouth and throat and tongue would have been so swollen and caked with dust and blood, that He would have struggled to get anything more than a whisper out. And so He asks for a drink, and He’s given a sip of sour wine to wet his throat. Because there is something He desperately wants to say; and the whole universe has been groaning for 4000 years, longing to hear Him say these words… and He lifts Himself up on the nails, and cries out: “It is finished.

Our debt was paid in full! And if we believe Him, and trust in His work on the cross, sin’s curse no longer has a hold on us — we are saved from the penalty of sin, we are freed from the bondage of sin, we are bought out of the slavemarket of sin, we are delivered from the power of sin, and we belong to the One who saves us from our sin!

When the Jews would lay their hands on their lambs to sacrifice them, they wouldn’t just touch them with their hands, they would lean all of their weight on that animal as if to say, I am identifying with this animal, and this lamb is dying the death that I should be dying… and if we lean all of ourselves on Christ, if we are willing to identify with Christ, if we rely wholly on Him to take the penalty of sin for us, He welcomes us into His arms — forgiven! That is the wonder and glory and love of Christ — that He would die to purchase you and me, so that we may have communion with Christ forever!

How Should Christians Respond to Crisis?

On our new podcast, By the Way, we sat down with missionary and Bible teacher, Gene Cunningham, and asked him about the pandemic panic (and a few other things)—specifically, how we, as Christians, ought to respond to crises like the coronavirus in a manner that is markedly different than the unbelieving world. Here’s a short preview. Be watching for the full episode at anchor.fm/termon!

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [Church and State]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I shared my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement a church might use that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

I’ve recently been working on an additional point, covering the relationship between church and state, and the political nature of the local church. I’d like to take the time to make notes on my wording choices, as I did with the other sections; but for now, I’ll share what I have in its entirety, and I welcome any questions or suggestions.

Church and State: We believe the church and state ought to remain distinct as institutions. God has delegated certain authority to various spheres, or governments—namely, the household, the local church, and the civil magistrate. Neither the family nor the church exists by the permission of the state. Nor does the civil magistrate bear the authority of the keys of the kingdom to declare individuals as citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Nor should the church swing the sword as a civil authority.

This distinction between the institutions of church and civil government ought not be construed, however, to mean that religion and politics should, or can, be separated. The religious convictions of individuals ought rightly to shape and direct their every action—including the policies, strategies, penalties, and measures employed by those in governing positions. Christians ought to seek to influence for good the public square, including the policies of the civil magistrate, through whatever course be available to them. Nor ought this be construed to mean that churches must not speak to political issues. Within the commission to make committed and competent disciples by teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded, churches are to teach what accords with proper justice, righteousness, mercy, and peace. Churches ought also to call upon the magistrate to uphold justice and to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ, demonstrating the peace and righteousness of the coming King, to whom the nations owe their fealty.

The ordinance of the civil magistrate is established by God in Genesis 9 as the means for man to uphold civil justice under the administration of the Noahic covenant. The governing authorities that exist are in place by the providence of God to punish evildoers and to protect the lives of the innocent under their watch. God has delegated to the civil magistrate the power of the sword in order to be a servant of God for good, to establish the justice and tranquility needed for their people to be secure in their person and property and to pursue virtue and godliness. The civil magistracy receives its authority from the ordinance of God, and rulers must never presume to act above or outside the Noahic commission, recognizing rather that they too are subject to the justice mechanism of the Noahic covenant. God has delegated the authority of the sword to civil government for certain ends only, and its rule is legitimate to the extent it pursues just ends by just means.

The church is not the kingdom, but is an outpost, or embassy, of the coming kingdom. Jesus has been given possession of all authority in heaven and on earth; he has been declared Lord over all creation. However, the political reality of his reign is not yet being exercised until he returns in power and glory to sit upon the throne in Jerusalem, thus establishing justice and peace over all nations. As an embassy of Christ’s coming kingdom, the church does not swing the sword for itself, but it does speak on behalf of the coming king who will judge the nations at his return. As such, the church has a prophetic ministry to proclaim Christ’s lordship, and to teach the nations the proper standard of justice. The civil magistrate ought to govern by the standard of Scripture, as taught by the local church, so as to uphold justice and minister for good as ordained by God; yet the church is not to coerce the state, just as the state is not to coerce the church.

Christians are to render submission and respect unto the governing authorities in all things lawfully commanded by them. The Christian’s first and highest allegiance is to Jesus Christ, though Christ calls us to seek the well-being of the country in which we reside and to submit to the governing authorities. The Christian must not obey rulers when they command that which Scripture forbids, or forbid that which Scripture requires. We are to offer supplications and prayers for all who are in positions of authority, that under them we might lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness, piety, and dignity—which ought to be the aspiration of all men.

It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto. In the managing thereof, they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth. To that end, they may swiftly carry out the just retribution of the wicked, and may lawfully wage war, upon just and necessary occasion, for the defense of borders. We affirm the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

(Genesis 9:5–7; 41:39–43; 1 Samuel 8:10–20; 2 Samuel 23:3–4; Nehemiah 12:26; 13:15–31; Psalm 2; 82; Proverbs 8:15–16; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Jeremiah 29:7; Daniel 2:48–49; Matthew 14:4; 16:18–19; 18:15–20; 22:21; 25:31; 28:18–20; Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14, 19; 19:11–27; Acts 5:29; 17:6–7; 24:25; Romans 1:5; 13:1–7; Ephesians 1:20–23; Philippians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12; 1 Timothy 2:1–4; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–17)

Affections, Passions, or Emotions

Many are surprised to learn that “emotion” is a recent idea, historically speaking—and, frankly, it’s a rather unhelpful category to boot. The discussion used to be primarily a moral one, a distinction between affections and passions was maintained, and this only quite recently morphed into a psychological, all-encompassing category of “emotion.”

To learn more about this distinction between emotions, feelings, affections, and passions—and how it relates to our theology of culture and worship—I commend the following resources for your study and edification.

For a summary introduction to the discussion, you might start with Dr. Scott Aniol’s helpful response to a question here.

That site—Religious Affections Ministries—is a remarkable resource altogether.

Pastor David de Bruyn’s articles on emotion and feelings in this series are tremendously helpful and interesting; especially pertinent is the article on “a short history of emotion.” The entire 58 part (!) series is worth your attention, but the several articles on emotion and feeling are particularly relevant to the inquiry at hand.

For a fuller treatment of the subject with regard to how the affections are related to our understanding and practice of worship, see this helpful paper by Dr. Aniol.

And, lastly, as I’m wont to offer, here are a few books of particular import:

The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards

The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis

From Passions to Emotions, by Thomas Dixon

You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith

Why the Virgin Birth Matters

A couple of fragmentary thoughts on why Jesus needed to be born of a virgin.

Why was it important that the Messiah be born of a virgin? Well, I think there are three basic reasons.

First, it’s the most unique and powerful sign possible, to mark out the anointed one of God. Isaiah 7:14 gives the sign that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (we’ll talk about the nature of that prophecy another time). Virgins didn’t get pregnant back then any more often than they do now, so this was an unmistakable, inescapable miracle, clearly demonstrating that this child is conceived by God to be the promised king.

The second reason the virgin birth is significant is, of course, that by the virgin birth, Jesus could be born without inheriting a fallen human nature. The transmission of the sin nature is through the father, because the man is the representative head. When Adam sinned, as the head of the human race, the entire human race fell. And that fallen nature is inherited through the father. So in order to be a man who could also live a sinless, perfect life, Jesus had to be born without an earthly father.

I think it was also important for a third reason—the curse on Joseph’s ancestor, Jeconiah. According to Matthew 1:12, Jesus is a descendant of Jeconiah. Jeconiah, though, was cursed in Jeremiah 22:24ff, such that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of Israel. Now there are three possible solutions to this problem: 1) Some say the curse was reversed; 2) Some say the curse only referred to “in his lifetime;” 3) Some say the virgin birth allows Jesus to avoid the curse.

Now, if you take view #3, as I do, it doesn’t diminish the reality that the virgin birth also allows Christ to be born without a fallen nature. In fact, it gives an illustration of that salvific reason the virgin birth was important. By the virgin birth, Jesus avoided the curse of Jeconiah that he would have inherited through Joseph, which would have precluded Him from being the king of Israel. And by the virgin birth, Jesus avoided the curse of Adam that he would have inherited through Joseph, which would have precluded Him from qualifying to be the sinless, perfect sacrifice, to take on Himself the penalty for sin that we deserved.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” —Isaiah 7:14

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