Expository Thoughts

unleashing my thoughts one post at a time

Temptation show us what is in us

by Riaan

After his opening remarks to his readers, which I looked at in the last post, Owen begins his treatise on temptation by discussing the general and special nature of temptation. General temptation, says Owen, is more like trials and special temptation is more like the temptation to sin. Owen makes a point that I found extremely helpful in dealing with temptation to sin. Speaking of God’s providential aim behind trials and temptations he writes:owne 2

“He doth it to show unto man what is in him,—that is, the man himself; and that either as to his grace or to his corruption. He sends his instruments of trial into the bowels and the inmost parts of the soul, and lets man see what is in him, of what metal he is constituted.”

What a thought to ponder when faced with temptations of various kinds: This temptation has come to show me what is in me. Understanding God’s aim in trials and even through temptations can be a defense aiding us to endure trials and to resist temptations.

Now, naturally there is corruption in us (Romans 3:9-20) but when we are called to faith in Christ, the Spirit comes and indwells us and begins a work of renewing us from the inside out. It may perhaps be helpful to think about temptations as more than regular and frequent “term tests” to evaluate our progression in this renewing process. When we take a term test, the test is based on the scope of work covered during that term. The aim is to determine whether we have learned the work well and understand it as we ought to.

So we study, prepare and sit down to take the test, during that moment when it’s only you and a blank piece of paper, in a funny way, that blank piece paper will determine what is in you concerning the work you know and understand. Often the blank paper is an apt reflection of what is in many students when they take a test. The “term test” we could say reveals what is in us – as it relates to the work we know! In a similar way,  temptations comes to test and determine how much progress we’ve made in “working out our salvation” (Phil. 2:13) i.e. what is in us .

It is often easy (although not without expensive consequences) to experience a temptation to sin and convince ourselves that we can give into the temptation and find grace and mercy from God. However, what such carnal reasoning misses is that temptation is not only intended to reveal what is clearly there in God, namely grace and mercy, but it is also there to reveal what is in us. As Owen says, “either as to his grace or his corruption”. Speaking of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles whom God tried to reveal his pride Owen writes: “He knew not that he had such a proud heart, so apt to be lifted up, as he appeared to have, until God tried him, and so let out his filth, and poured it out before his face.”

There is an incentive to resist temptation when we know that we are being tested to determine what is in us. We must therefore by God’s grace be eager to demonstrate in the face of temptation that what is in us is more of our renewed redeemed nature than our old sinful nature.

 

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Take Temptation Serious, before it Takes you Seriously

by Riaan

I’ve been reading John Owen’s fairly brief discourse entitled: “Of Temptation: the Nature and Power of it; the Danger of Entering into it; and the Means of Preventing that Danger” and found myself highlighting almost every page.  As I’ve been reflecting on these precious truths, I felt compelled to share some what Owen has to say on the subject of temptation. So, I want to share some of his quotes and provide context and commentary.

owen

 

Owen begins his treaties on temptation by addressing the reader. He demonstrates the seriousness with which he regards the subject of temptation, so much so, that he has determined to set himself up as a student of temptation as it touches his own life and as it touches the lives of others. He writes,

I have had advantages to make of the ways and walkings of others,—their beginnings, progresses, and endings, their risings and falls, in profession and conversation, in darkness and light,—have left such a constant sense and impression of the power and danger of temptations upon my mind and spirit, that, without other pleas and pretences, I cannot but own a serious call unto men to beware, with a discovery of some of the most eminent ways and means of the prevalency of present temptations, to have been, in my own judgement, in this season needful.

What’s fascinating in what Owen says here is that he is not primarily interested in envying the “risings” of others or judging the “falls” of others but Owen rather regards “the walking of others” as an advantage and a blessing which has “left such a constant sense and impression of the power an danger of temptation upon [his] mind and spirit”. What he sees in others (darkness or light, risings or falls) causes him to look at himself firstly, and then call on others to beware. This is exactly what Scripture exhorts us to do:

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. – Galatians 6:1

Owen speaks out against those who do not treat temptation with the sobriety and seriousness they ought to and who fails to see the threat it poses to their soul. He calls them “men overborne by security in the mouth of destruction”  (he draws this from Proverbs 23:34 “And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast”).In classic Owen-esque we could say: take temptation serious, before it takes your seriously.   This reminds me of Paul’s warning:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:12

In fact Owen’s entire discourse on temptation is based on our Lord’s exhortation to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane:

“Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41 (NASB95)

Owen expresses serious concern for those unconcerned about the seriousness of “entering into temptation”. He writes:

“he that understands not that there is an “hour of temptation” come upon the world, to “try them that dwell upon the earth,” is doubtless either himself at present captivated under the power of some woful lust, corruption, or temptation, or is indeed stark blind, and knows not at all what it is to serve God in temptations.”owne 2

Owen begins his book by calling on us to see the seriousness of temptation and it is an appropriately call we will do well to listen to today. I hope to share some more of Owen on temptation along with some of my own reflections.

I trust this start to Owen’s words and these brief reflections would leave such a constant sense and impression of the power and danger of temptations upon your mind and spirit. The aim is that this would make you flee to the throne of grace where Christ is, our great and faithful high priest who Himself was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin – and thus sympathizes with our weaknesses – and there in Him find strength to stand, resist, and overcome in the face of temptations.

 

 

 

Discernment Ministries and the Making of Deficient Disciples

by Riaan

INTRODUCTION

Discernment is the spiritual discipline and practice of ably distinguishing between truthDiscernment and error. Christians are called to not merely accept everything they hear from God’s Word as God’s Word but distinguish between what is actually God’s Word and what are really misrepresentations of God’s Word. Discernment, in short, is the ability to distinguish between truth and error – it is to be like the Bereans of Acts 17 who responded to Paul’s ministry discerningly. We read about them:

Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. – Acts 17:11

This is not to be confused with judgmental-ism or hypocritical-ism both of which lack the humility and fruitfulness of true biblical discernment.  The Scriptures provide us with another helpful description of discernment when the Apostle Paul calls on the believers in Thessalonica to “examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every from of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21). Discernment ministries arose mostly out of the ever growing presence and spread of error among Christians. So to be clear most discernment ministries came about out of noble intentions and biblical fidelity. Many Christian have been warned and thus spared the abuse they may have suffered under false teaching as a result of some really solid work from many discernment ministries.

In my own experience, about 15 to 20 years ago, discernment was not a widely practiced discipline or welcomed practice among Christians. However, today discernment has become trendy and discernment ministries have become fashionable. Just a quick look at Facebook or twitter and you will see the many pages and accounts dedicated either to “defending the gospel” or “protecting the truth” or “custodians of sound doctrine” etc.

I must say I become weary when I hear of this or that person having appointed themselves a defender or protector or custodian of the gospel. When I see some defendersprominent pastor quoted and somewhere on the poster is “defender of truth” or something similar, I wonder not only to what biblical authority that person/s behind that discernment ministry answers to but also what biblical and theological tradition they subscribe to and standard they hold others to.

One of my biggest concerns is the unspoken assumption that to be discerning is to be “biblical” – i.e. well orientated and proficient in sound doctrine. Now, let me be clear and say that to be biblical in this sense include being discerning but practicing discernment doesn’t’ necessary  mean one is well-orientated and proficient in sound doctrine – especially if it is the type of discernment that is only defined by what it is against. And this is the sad reality today that many discernment ministries are only defined by what they are against and they therefore tend to only tell Christians what they are supposed to be against.

The problem with this is illustrated on social media when a Christian, sincerely wanting to be faithful and sound, shares a particular post about some aberrant doctrine but the very next post he promotes some ministry or music team with as bad if not worse theology. You’ll get someone sharing discernment ministry memes that speaks out against Catholicism but the next post he quotes lyrics by a music group whose doctrine of God would stand ashamed when held up against the classic theism and theology proper of Roman Catholic scholars. Practicing discernment that only leads to know the few things you are supposed to be against betrays a depleted and deficient state of biblical literacy that makes the whole discernment exercise counter-productive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not tolerating the errors of Catholicism or any error for that matter. I’m merely pointing out the theological inconsistency created by discernment ministries who care only for what they are against. The big problem we then end up having is sincere Christians who genuinely desire to be biblically faithful and sound become deficient disciples because they just know about the theological pet peeves of some discernment ministry they should be against and haven’t really developed a healthy and sound biblical framework from which to engage not only error but all of Christian life.

In the midst of this trendy and fashionable state of the discernment movement what is required is firstly a clear understanding of true discipleship and an eagerness to belong to a healthy church where there’s faithful preaching of the whole counsel of God and a commitment to grow spiritually in all our grace’s and not merely selectively against that which is deemed unacceptable.  It is true that we must be discerning and it is true that as Christian we need help in developing our discernment. However I’m convinced that the Scripture presents us with a better way to cultivate biblical discernment than what many discernment ministries today seem to offer.

  1. BIBLICAL DISCIPLESHIP IS A BETTER APPROACH TO CULTIVATING DISCERNMENT

If you are serious about not being deceived by error and if you are serious about knowing the truth and if you are eager to heed the exhortation to “examine everything carefully” and to “hold fast to what is good” and “abstain from every form of evil”, then I encourage you to pursue biblical discipleship. Discipleship is not only interested in knowing what teachings to avoid and what teachings to oppose, biblical discipleship according to Jesus is to know and obey everything he commanded.

The risen Lord commissioned his disciples to make disciples. We read our Lord’s commission in Matthew’s gospel:

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–20

In verse 20 we find the heart of biblical discipleship: We must – by implication – first be exposed to and instructed in “all that I commanded you”. Jesus does not only want to us to know what we must be against and he does not only want us to know what we must be for. Instead we ought to know everything he commanded. In fact it is not even knowledge of what Jesus commanded that is emphasized here but obedience to everything Jesus commanded, that is the heart of biblical discipleship. When we pursue biblical discipleship we will necessarily also learn about discernment and when we learning and practicing all of God’s Word we will be preparing ourselves to rightly discern and distinguish truth from error. So then, biblical discipleship as seen in Matthew 28:19-20 i.e. giving oneself in learning and obedience to all of God’s Word, is a better approach to cultivate discernment than following discernment ministries that only tell you what you must be against.

  1. FAITHFUL PREACHING IS A BETTER INSTRUMENT TO CULTIVATE DISCERNMENT

Something that should bother us when we see these memes designed by discernment ministries and we see many Christians making use of their “material” is, where do these folk attend church, what do they actual believe – beyond what they are against – and are they faithfully submitting to authority?  Following on from that concern, what should also bother us is if we are more dependent on these ministries to cultivate discernment in us than the preaching of our own pastor in the fellowship of our own local church. In other words if you are not being taught – as part of your pastor’s preaching and your church’s practice – the truth and warned against error and you have to follow a discernment ministry for that then you should be concern about the ministry you are receiving at your church. In giving the qualification of a Pastor as well as the job description he must give himself to, Paul writes:

Titus 1:9 (NASB95)

9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

Your pastor must hold fast the faithful word. Hereby Paul means that a elder or Pastor must be competent in doctrine and know the Scriptures. Doctrinal and biblical fitness is crucial for discharging his ministry which is made up of “exhorting in sound doctrine” and “refuting those who contradict”. If you belong to a healthy church your Pastors and elders will be biblically competent and will be exhorting you in sound doctrine as well as correcting error and this ministry of theirs will cultivate in you a heart for discernment. Discernment is best taught in the local church through the ministry of the word of God by the local pastor – in exhorting in sound doctrine and refuting error – than through liking a discernment ministries Facebook page and following its memes.  Regularly listening to faithful preaching in a healthy local church is a much better instrument to cultivate discernment that merely parroting everything a discernment ministry says.

  1. SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS A BETTER PRACTICE TO CULTIVATE DISCERNMENT

I wonder how much we can truly grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17) if we are only doing theology in the negative i.e. only knowing the few things we must be against. Again the better practice would be to give ourselves to growing up well rounded and mature. We know from everyday life that healthy growth requires a healthy diet. Only knowing what foods to avoid and never learning what foods to eat will be sure path to malnutrition if not starvation. This of course means that despite knowing the foods we must avoid we will still not grow because we are not taking in the foods we should.

We have this exhortation concerning spiritual growth:

like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 1 Peter 2:2

Notice how Peter’s exhortation here necessitates practicing discernment. To “long for the pure milk of the word” requires knowing the difference between that which is pure and that which is not and so we see the importance of discernment. However, notice that it is not necessarily in knowing the impure milk that will cause us to grow – but in longing for and drinking up the pure milk of the word that will bring about growth. So true spiritual growth necessarily produces discerning believers as we thus seek to grow in respect to our salvation and not merely in respect to what we must be against. In pursuing spiritual growth as stated here by Peter we inevitably become discerning and this is a much healthier way to become discerning.

Conclusion

I’m by no means saying that all discernment ministries are unhelpful and counter-productive. There are good discernment ministries who function under biblical authority and in the context of the local church and seek to not merely be defined by what they are against but seek to promote sound doctrine in general. We can learn from them and we should. However, in an effort to promote discernment, there is no substitute for a healthy local church serious about our Lord’s commission to make disciples who know and obey all of God’s Word, and whose ministers exhort in sound doctrine and refute error and where the members are called to long for the pure milk of the word so that they can grow not only in respect to discernment but in respect to salvation. This is the place in which discernment is best cultivated!

LOOKING TO JESUS IN THE FACE OF VIOLENCE

by Riaan

INTRODUCTION

Graphic1

This week in Lavender Hill, not unlike any other week, the painful reminder that we’re

living in a fallen world where reckless and violent men wreak havoc on communities, were brought to the fore of our attention again. When God saves us He does not remove us to some utopia spiritual community where we live out our lives until He comes for us again. Instead, God saves us and calls us to live faithfully in a fallen world – even a community such a Lavender Hill.

This does not mean we are naturally prepare to live in volatile and hostile contexts nor does it mean that we never have questions or that we never wonder why God continues to allow such things to occur. Another painful reality is that the violence affects believers as much as unbelievers – some directly and others indirectly. The brief point I hope to make here is that despite the violence we see all around us we must – through it all  – look to Jesus and learn from Him, who suffered great violence at the hands of sinful men, how we can overcome and triumph over the forces of violence plaguing our communities.

There could not have been a more violent act of injustice in the history of the world than the cold and cruel crucifixion of Jesus and therefore we as believers are not left without a gospel witness in the midst of the most grotesque violence. Many of us live in violent surroundings that often directly or indirectly affect us and we rightly regard this predicament as unjust.

As Christians we are not without one who is able to sympathize with us because He also shared in the suffering of violence inflicted by sinful men. The cross is where violence was enacted against the Son of God by unholy men and yet despite such cosmic injustice, Jesus triumphed over violence, evil, sin and even death.

We who are subjected to the effects of violence can look to Him who also suffered violently and learn how to triumph in Christ over the forces of violence. We can learn from Jesus who triumphed over the violence suffered at the cross so that we can triumph over the violence suffered in our communities. Here are a few lesson we learn when we look to Jesus’ handling of the violence He suffered.

1. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE MUST CAUSE US TO ENTRUST OURSELVES TO GOD

What is the point of faith when all we see around us is violence? It’s easy to adopt such a view – especially if we believe the myth that faith must always bring comfort. This may quickly cause us to wonder whether the violence around us may not be defeating our faith. While we cannot be blamed for asking such a question we can be encourage that the answer is in looking to Jesus and how He triumphed over the forces of violence at the cross.  We learn from Jesus that violence does not defeat our faith because:

1.1. In the face of violence Jesus did not give up on the Father but He gave Himself over to the Father.

One of Jesus’ from the cross is “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The Apostle Peter comments on the violence Jesus suffered on his way to the cross, he writes “…while reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). After enduring the horror, humility and agony of the cross – despite all the beatings, scourging, and being nailed to the cross at the hands of ungodly men Jesus committed Himself to His Father.

From a human vantage point it is easy to see how the fleshly temptation to give up on God especially after enduring such agony and even at one time feeling utterly forsaken by God, however, none of these things caused Jesus to distrust His Father.

We can learn from Jesus that when violence presses all around us we must not give in to the temptation to give up on God but instead commit ourselves even more firmly to God in confessing our dependence and trust in His goodness and love for us. Jesus entrusted himself to Him who judges righteously and right there in those words we find a great incentive for trusting God while suffering the effects of violence, namely, God judges righteously.

Those gang members and drug lords who reign in terror over communities and oversee all sorts of wickedness must know that God judges righteously. The fear that grip our hearts because of their malevolence must be allayed with the truth of who God is and what He is able to do, as Jesus said, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (– Luke 12:4-5)

1.2. In the face of violence Jesus did not become violent.

Peter writes“…while reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).Here is a lesson for us that though we are the ones suffering under the violence – because of Jesus and similar to Jesus – we can be grateful that we’re not the violent ones ourselves.

Matthew Henry, the famed Bible teacher, once related an account of him being robbed and Henry came away from that unfortunate event more grateful than sorrowful. His gratitude he notes was because though he was robbed He did not do the robbing. So too, though we are suffering the effects of violence and the despair and trauma of unsafe streets, we can be grateful that we are not the ones responsible for the violence nor are we the ones throwing our lives away and taking the lives of others. This too must encourage us all the more to entrust ourselves to our God because not only does He keep us amidst the terror and violence He keeps us from being violent and a terror to others.

1.3. In the face of violence Jesus endured joyfully in light of the glory of the resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection from a violent death suffered fuels our faith and without the resurrection of Jesus the violence He suffered was meaningless and the violence we suffer is meaningless (1 Cor. 15:14-19). But because of the resurrection we can have hope for a new world without violence and so we too can now joyfully endure that which is busy passing away knowing the hope of the resurrection. Because Jesus died and rose again our faith is never defeated come hell or high water!

The chorus writer capturers this powerfully when he penned these profound words:

Because He lives                                                                
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
Every fear is gone
I know He holds my life my future in His hands

2. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE MUST BE MET WITH FERVENCY IN PRAYER

The effects of violence and the hurting and killing of innocent people and the despair it brings to communities may lead many to murmur and complain.  However, the church – the community of faith – responds differently. As believers we must learn to create a habit of prayer to address the culture of violence. It is often said that prayer is the least we can do, however, prayer is not the least we can do it is among the greatest of responses we can give in light of any situation.

When Jesus prepared to face to the violence of crucifixion and even the hostile arrest that led to his crucifixion he committed himself to prayer. We remember that Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane and prayed until he perspired drops of blood (Luke 22:44). In light of the violence you may be facing in your community what has your prayer time been like? Have you been praying fervently for your community and for the violence in your community?

2.1. Violent times require prayer that is filled with fervency and passion

Never have a man faced such a volatile death and met it with such fervent prayer as in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only do we see Jesus’ fervency and zeal in prayer when he sweet drops of blood in the garden but the writer of Hebrews tell us that, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.” (Hebrews 5:7).

Brothers and sisters, are we praying? No really, are we praying? We should be praying. We should be praying fervently. We should be offering up both prayers and supplication with loud cries and tears to the One able to save our communities. We must not only rush to post about the violence on Facebook. We must not only be quick to share the most recent incident of a shooting on WhatsApp. We must also be eager and quick to turn to God and plead with Him for grace, for mercy, for safety and for salvation!

2.2. Violent times require prayer that is made from a humble disposition

Luke tells us that when Jesus arrived in Gethsemane right before the violence He would suffer at the hands of sinful men, “he knelt down and began to pray” (Luke 22:40-41). Notice the humility with which the Son of God came to His Father when He drew near in prayer. We can learn from that and we should humble our hearts before God in exactly the same way. The point is that amidst the violence, the crime, and the killings that traumatizes our communities, we are not entitled before God and we cannot make demands of God.

We can only come to Him and ask Him to be merciful and gracious. Let us assume the disposition of humility, the practice of prayer and the heart of faith knowing God does all things well. Like our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself in prayers prior to enduring great violence let us not become angry with God but remain humble before God.

2.3. Violent times require prayer that seeks God’s will above anything else

We know the content of Jesus’ prayer that night in the garden. It was a simple and yet profound prayer especially for someone in His position. Jesus prayed “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will, but Yours be done”. What a powerful prayer for someone awaiting to be forcefully arrested, beaten, mocked, scourged, humiliated and nailed to a piece of wood. Violent times require prayers that seek God’s will above anything else. Despite what we may think we know, God always knows better and it’s best we ask His will to take priority over our wishes.

3. THE UNJUST EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE CANNOT DIMINISH THE GREATNESS AND POWER OF GOD.

Jesus never lost sight of the greatness and power of God who could have at any time intervened and complete destroyed those who acted violently toward Him.  Jesus famously said, “…do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels. How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54). The violence Jesus suffered on the night he was arrested and the day He was sentenced to be crucified could have been stopped and Jesus knew that.

God has the power stop evil at any time. However, in the mystery of His will and sovereignty works, He permits certain measures of evil and wickedness to rise up – without it impugning His holy name – in order for His good and benevolent purposes to be accomplished. In other words, if He did not permit those sinful religious leaders to act out their deviously wicked plan against Jesus and crucify Him, where would we have been today?

We must reassess what we believe when we stutter in responding biblically to evil. We must affirm God is omnipotent – which means He has all power to perform His will and can stop evil at any time. We must affirm that God is perfectly good and does not do evil, nor is He tempted by evil. We must also affirm that we do not always know everything about how God works and we do not have carte blanch access to everything God intends.

God can stop the violence in Lavender Hill. God does not have evil plans for the people of Lavender Hill but only just and gracious plans depending on whether they believe Him or reject Him. We do not know why God does not stop the violence immediately and we do not know what God is working through the violence in Lavender Hill.

Here are a few more reasons why violence does not diminish the greatness of God is:

3.1. God is greater than violence and evil

Qualitatively, ontologically, and inherently God is better than evil, wickedness and violence. As a choice of the better options – God is always to be preferred instead of violence. Therefore, violence and wickedness which is qualitatively and ontologically infinitely lesser than God, cannot diminish the greatness of God. Amidst Jesus’ violent and cruel treatment of the cross he remained the spotless Lamb of God. Despite him suffering injustice and his blood spilled violently, his blood is still spoken of as precious. Evil and violence cannot diminish the greatness of God and we must never lose sight of that even if all we can see is gang violence.

3.2. Violence does not deter God from working good

The greatest good was worked through the greatest of injustice and violence to ever befall upon a man. This is what happened when God worked about our salvation through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. We must know this, the violence in Jerusalem did not deter the plans of heaven and likewise the violence in Lavender Hill does not deter the plans of heaven. The Apostle Paul affirmed clearly that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

3.3. In the end God will put an end to violence once and for all

Though evil may still be an unfortunate reality in our lives and in this world – God will end it. The book of Revelation tells us that God will overthrow wickedness and put an end to evil once and for all (Revelation 17-19). We have this great promise that God will make all things new. Let us take comfort in these words:

and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” – Revelation 21:4-5

CONCLUSION

Our faith as believers can be aptly summed up as “looking to Jesus” in fact this is exactly what we are exhorted to do (Hebrews 12:3).  By looking to Jesus we learn how we can overcome violence because He suffered violence and triumphed over it. By looking to Jesus amidst the violence around us we can be encourage that He is not bound from working good despite what’s happening in our community. And by looking to Jesus when violence in our streets swell up we have hope that He is coming to end violence, sin, suffering, pain and all evil. Behold, I am making all things new, says the Lord!

As we wait for Him to make all things new our heart must be encouraged that because of Christ we are indestructible and we overcome:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –

(Romans 8:37–39)

 

 

GRAVITY OF SIN, GRACE OF CHRIST

by Riaan

The musician and singer, John Mayer sings a song called, “Gravity”, in which he laments its hold on him. He sings:

Gravity is working against me

And gravity wants to bring me down

Some have speculated that he’s singing about the brevity of life, with specific focus on his mortality, comparing it to gravity. This is especially probable when we consider later on in the song he sings:

Oh gravity, stay… away from me

Oh gravity has taken better men than me (how can that be?)

The song then mostly likely likens our mortality to the powerful and unstoppable force of gravity. We often do not think too much about the reality and power of the natural force of gravity and yet it has a constant and powerful effect on us – and it can be no other way. That which has such a profound and regular effect on us is often given little thought. Naturally this is true of the force of gravity, spiritually it is also true of the reality of sin.

To continue the thought of things comparable to the force of gravity, it is so easy to lose sight of the reality and power of sin even though it has an even stronger effect on our souls than the force of gravity has on our bodies. As John Owen writes, “There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on, and it will be so whilst we live in this world”.  It’s so easy to underestimate not only the reality of sin but especially the power of sin. This means we cannot even rely on ourselves to help us be vigilant and watchful against sin.

I’ve been particularly helped by John Owen’s “Mortification of Sin” and a brief reflection by a young Jonathan Edwards to be alert to the power of sin but even more alert to the power of Christ’s saving grace. In the book, Jonathan Edwards: America’s Genius, the author Christian George relates a reflection Edwards had as a child. Jonathan Edwards was wildly fascinated with nature and all things outdoor, the observation of gravity grabbed Edwards’ attention.gravity balls

Edwards thought to himself, if gravity exists outside of me and keeps me anchored to the earth, perhaps it (or something similar) also exists inside of me. Reading Romans 3:12 “and there is no one who knows good, not even one”, Jonathan Edwards pondered this passage ‘if there is no one who does good then there must be a common force inside of all people that keeps us from doing good – a gravity of sin’. This is such a helpful analogy of sin when we appreciate the unstoppable nature of gravity and its power and pull on our bodies. Though Edwards never thought of sin like this before, he felt it to be true and I presume so do many of us.

When we are tempted to become angry, we are being pulled by the gravity of sin that seeks to weigh our souls down. . When we are consumed by laziness, it is the gravity of sin that pulls us away from God-honouring productivity towards self-loathing nothingness. When we are focused on God and His glory, it is the gravity of sin that comes with unwelcoming and untimely distractions to pull us from these godly reflections to settle our minds on something infinitely less – something trivial and vain! When we are being tempted in all ways, it is the gravity of sin that pulls us down toward the emptiness of self-gratification and God-dishonouring thoughts and actions. The force of the gravity of sin acts powerfully in us to bring down and settle our hearts and minds on the temporary, the earthly, the carnal and the fleeting.

Consider Paul’s own personal wrestle with sin as a believer he relates in Romans 7

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What can stop the natural force of gravity from pulling our bodies down toward the earth? I find it helpful to think of sin in the terms of gravity-like-power and pull that, not unlike the natural force of gravity, has an effect on all of us.

This makes me realize that sin is not to be taken lightly or to be thought of as something I can manage or control – we cannot manage our sin. We cannot negotiate with it, or seek to exercise it with caution or with care (whatever that may look like). As Owen states: “Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind”. In other words sin, similar to the force of gravity, does not work half-heartedly, but is always determine to complete draw down and pull away!

Not only is the thought of sin as gravity acting upon our souls helpful in appreciating the strength, pull and power of sin but it is helpful to appreciate the strength of Christ to break the power of this gravity-like-sinful -disposition of ours!  Christ is more powerful in grace to pull us to Himself than the gravity of sin to pull us away from Him. This means just like we cannot stop our bodies from being pulled by the earth’s gravity so too we cannot by ourselves stop our hearts from being pulled away from God by the gravity of sin. But what we cannot do, God did. What is impossible with us is possible for God (Luke 18:27).

And so we have a perfect Saviour, one perfect unblemished and sinless, one upon whom the power and pull of gravity [of sin] has no effect and in fact effectively powerless, one tempted in every way yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He is able to save to the uttermost i.e. completely, those who draw near to God through Him (Heb. 7:25). He sets the sinner free (John 8:36). He rescues from sin’s dominion of darkness (Col. 1:13). He forgives sin (Luke 7:48). He cleanses from sin (1 John 1:9). And in the powerful words penned by Charles Wesley: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood avails for me”. When the gravity of sin pulls only He can pull us away, pull us up, pull us out of and pull us toward Himself!

So when John Mayer sings about our mortality, “Gravity is working against me, And gravity wants to bring me down”, Jonathan Edwards says “Yes, it’s also seen in the universal pull on our souls that sin has”. But the gospel proclaims that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).

Ruined sinners to reclaim… Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

 

 

PARENTING: A LIFE ALTERING ADJUSTMENT.

by graceboer

[Another guest post by my wife, Grace]

In my last post I wrote about my experience as a first time mom and I was so overwhelmed by the feedback I received but even more overwhelmed by the support from my husband who encouraged me to actually write the initial post. After my first post, I told my husband how much his support and him spurring me on meant to me. It is such a wonderful feeling when your husband can recognise something you enjoy and then gently push you to pursue it. At least for me, that warms my heart.

This though made me a bit embarrassingly aware of something in my own experience I can so easily minimize, and that is, that it is not just us women who are first time moms, but hello, there’s a man (!!!!), your husband (!!!!) and mine who are also first time dads. And oh dear, isn’t that something to write about… IMG-20170617-WA0004

After Matthew’s birth, my husband and I, even after having read several books and received wise counsel from experienced parents, were still hopelessly unprepared for the actual experience of raising a baby. I promise, I was the most organized and all-together-mommy-to-be but when Matt came, I wasn’t even sure whether or not I could trust my judgment on the right temperature for his bottle or his bath. I didn’t trust a thermometer (that’s how nutty I was).

In any case, I was happy that I had a partner who was with me on the ride to “perfect” parenting.  But I must admit, hubby gave me many funny and memorable moments in the earlier months, that goes to show the real and tremendous adjustments we had to make or become used to now that we were parents. To parent well requires selfless and life altering adjustments to ones life (and you really don’t have a choice in this).

Now you have to understand our situation before Matthew came to appreciate the significant adjustments we had to make. We were married for 5 years and in that 5 years of blissful marriage we had the luxury and comfort of just having time for ourselves. But BOY when our boy came everything changed (and rightfully so). I get that your life has to somehow change for the most part but once this change touches on the sacred cow of sleep we knew it was going to be one hectic journey! Becoming a parent you soon realize that your own sleep time doesn’t belong to you anymore. Shame, my heart went out to daddy-dearest as I watched him come to terms with this “new dawn”. I remember waking up throughout the night so that Matthew could have his feed and daddy-dearest providing some ‘interesting’ moments.

So we soon fell into an evening routine. During the night one-month old Matt becomes restless and starts to moan for a bottle. I wake Riaan to get the bottle ready so that I could feed him. Then I’d pass Matt over to Riaan so he could pass winds by daddy. This is when the show began, but oddly enough it wasn’t Matthew putting on a show, but daddy (LOL!). I shared our experiences with my family and I got hubby’s permission so he doesn’t mind me embarrassing him for the greater good. Let me explain:

It was the first night of Riaan’s struggle to adjust to the broken-sleep-patterns that would become part of our new lives. It was about 2am the morning and time for Matthew’s feed. I woke Riaan up and urged him to get the bottle warmed and ready for Matthew to be fed. Riaan jumped from the bed and hastily made his way to the kitchen. At this point I’m fully awake and patiently waiting for the bottle. Riaan comes back to the bedroom with no bottle in his hand. Instead with his eyes closed he makes his way to the bed sits down and eats a sucker – YES AN ICE COLD SUCKER! At 2 am in the morning when a bottle should be fetched he eats the sucker.

I turned to him and asked him what’s he doing and it seems it was only then that he actually really woke up and the look on his face led me to believe he had NO IDEA or answer to my question. He was actually still asleep! Yes for some reason, woken up by my request, he got up and made his way to the kitchen and instead of preparing a bottle he helped himself to a sucker while fast asleep, mind you! I know having your sleep broken up at 2am sucks…but did he seriouslyemoji need to demonstrate how much it sucked (lol)

 

 

The second night Matt wakes up the same time, early hours of the morning for his feed. I wake Riaan and he goes to the kitchen and returns with a plate in his hand giving it to me. At this point I’m convinced he is sleep walking, so I raised my voice and repeat that I need to feed Matt and that he should get me the bottle! He then goes back into the kitchen and returns to the room handing me THE SAME PLATE WITH A CUP ON TOP OF IT. Oh man, I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream but I certainly started realizing the struggle to adjust was real! We still laugh out loud when we think of those early months and how far we’ve come in this short journey!

There are a few other nights with some other (more embarrassing) incidents but because I love him and he is after-all the father of my baby, I will spare him the embarrassment, plus I think the point is made. You are never ready for the kind of adjustments you are required to make when you become fist-time parents and these adjustment are non-negotiable and every parent goes through it (so we’re not alone).

It’s interesting that we often only talk about the changes and adjustments the mother must make and while that is true my experience with this brave dad makes me also want to acknowledge that dads have to make a significant adjustment to their lives too.IMG_20170902_183417_085

So, what carries us through such inconvenient adjustments? Well, I guess, for us it’s not just about strategizing, planning and being real hard on ourselves but it’s more an internal motivation. Before the practical and actual life adjustment, must come the internal heart adjustment. Adjusting to parenting require a selfless attitude! This Christian virtue of “selflessness” is perfectly modeled by our Saviour Jesus Christ. My husband always reminds me that parenting affords us the opportunity to obey Philippians 2:3-5

“…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”

He says that if we are going to be good parents we need to heed the instructions of Philippians 2 carefully, and consider our children above ourselves, and look out not for our own interests (even that sweet uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep) but the interests of our children – who need both are consideration and care. Parenting requires serious life adjustments and God reminds us of the Christ-like virtue of selflessness to help us make these sacrificial and necessary adjustments for the well-being, care and happiness of our little babies! Parenting begins with an attitude of selflessness!

 

 

 

WHY AS A COLOURED CHRISTIAN I DO NOT USE THE TERM “WHITE-PRIVILEGE”

by Riaan

A WORD ABOUT THE TITLE                                  

I think it’s important to explain the title of this post before proceeding. Firstly, biblically speaking there is no such thing as a white Christian or a black Christian that would somehow imply a distinct availability of blessing, benefit and promise in the gospel for each respective race. In other words the gospel and all its glorious benefits are for the-whosoever believes. However, it is true on the level of social and cultural experience that there are to a certain degree unfortunate differences in background, opportunities, and “privileges” based on the superficiality of skin colour and hair type i.e. whether you’re black or white. So while in the former instance there are no significance differences on the latter level there are and it is with these two understanding that I use the term “coloured Christian” very tentatively and only to serve the argument of this post.

Disclaimer: This is not necessarily an argument against the term “White-privilege” but an explanation of why I choose not to use the term. So while I may be discussing the [de]merits of the term in passing – thinking about this as a case against the term “white-privilege” will probably result in missing the point I’m making.

INTRODUCTION

The term white privilege has found its way into the social dialogue among many engaging issues of racial tension and unity. Wikipedia has a helpful entry that explains White-Privilege-1038x535what is meant by white privilege: “White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”

One common example from every day experience that I can think of is the perception white people enjoy when entering certain places (e.g. a store) purely on the basis of having white skin compared to the suspicion people of colour endure purely because they are black and coloured.

So, white privilege refers to ways in which white skinned people can be (but not always are as we cannot absolutize it) privileged socially, economically and politically purely on the basis of their skin. I think it also has to do with what has been referred to as unearned benefits white skinned people have due to the consequence of an unjust system in some form of the other. An example of this would be how the evil and unjust apartheid system ensured that white people benefit in a way that people of colour could not and that even today many white people who may not necessarily have been perpetrators in that unjust system still experience the privileges and benefits that system has earned for them over against the grave disadvantages black and coloured people have inherited.

Now the contentious and polarizing nature of the term aside – the realities the term “white privilege” seek to capture (whether successfully or not) have merit and can be attested to in the everyday experience of ordinary life.  However, I am not willing to use the term and I am particular reluctant to use the term in addressing a white person’s advantages or aspects in his or her life where they are perceivably more privileged than I am. Here are a few reasons I’m not willing to throw around the term white privilege:

1. IT IS SUSCEPTIBLE TO MISUNDERSTANDING.

As an ethic for Christian communication I aim to not be deliberately offensive or give cause for stumbling – especially when there are other better and more helpful ways of communicating. The term white privilege tends to be inflammatory, aggravate and lead to misunderstanding that is not helpful to effective charitable communication. Just on a side note: One thing that always bothers me when I observe white Christians engage other whites on the issue of privilege (especially on social media) is how little patience and gentleness is shown toward white people who sincerely have a hard time coming to terms with the realities the concept white privilege seek to communicate. It almost appears to me that because they are white and enjoy some unearned (as well as un-asked for) privilege that somehow precludes them from being engaged with in a spirit of grace, gentleness and patience. From a Christian perspective this is unacceptable and uncharitable engagement.

I think the term white privilege generally comes across as insulting, offensive and accusatory and thereby cause more heat than light on the issue of race. The term is also generally used to show the disparity between race groups, however, the use of the term itself becomes counterproductive in the efforts to create an awareness of the circumstances of those disadvantaged and discriminated, in that it is a conversation-ending term and not a conversation-opening term.

Firstly, the term can be construed as an insult in that it fails to appreciate that even though there may be unearned privileges it is also unasked-for-privileges (in many cases today) and it does not discount a diligent and an honourable work ethic on the part of the white person being called out for his or her privilege.

While it may be true that many blacks and coloureds can exert the same amount of diligence and not necessarily acquire what a white person could, the diligence, effort and sacrifice of a white person is still that and not somehow less only because it is supposedly marred by their white skin. Not only does the term white privilege tend to discount honesty and diligence it also tends to depreciate the life built by a white person in considering what they have and acquired as somehow less qualitatively because it is largely due to their unearned privilege.

Let me add that while it may be true on more occasions than not, that when a white person enters a store the attention he receives is generally free from any suspicion, whereas a person of colour generally receives the suspicious kind of attention, the white person has never asked for this, and those I know (generally) do not encourage this. Therefore the problem in many cases like this is not necessarily with white privilege but with the racist person granting that privilege to the white person – this person can be of any colour in my experience.

It appears the impression the term white privilege conveys is that receiving privileged attention and treatment on the basis of having white skin, somehow makes the white person who never asked for this, perhaps unaware of this, and most certainly is not encouraging this complicit in such unfairness and this I think is unfair toward that particular white person!

Secondly and building on from the first reason, I find the term can be offensive in that it fails on the basic human level of respect. If I reduce everything that a person is and have to some unearned privilege (they never asked for nor had any control over) as a result of their skin colour I cannot at the same time convey any sense of respect for that person and it necessarily leads to offense. I’m essentially negating every effort, sacrifice, show of commitment and dedication that person genuinely put in for them to be able to obtain and have what they are enjoying and experiencing. I must respect the virtues of diligence, sacrifice, dedication, commitment – even if I’m not willing to respect the person.

Thirdly, the term strikes me as accusatory. I cannot escape the accusatory tone when I consider the term white privilege in that it almost implicates all white people in the injustices of the past due to a perceived benefit they are experiencing – not to mention the vilifying nature of the term. There are most certainly many white people, especially in South Africa with its history of race-based discrimination who are benefitting because of an unjust system and blacks and coloureds who are not because of the same unjust system. The reality now though, is that white people today irrespective of how or what they have benefitted from are not all necessarily guilty of the injustices of the past and I cannot view them through eyes filled with grievances of past injustice – that is not fair nor just. (for more see the facebook comment)

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point 3 should read *in* and not *is*.

I suppose it would help to note that I’m referring to white people who never supported the injustices of apartheid, even during apartheid and did as much as they can with the means that they have to demonstrate their opposition to apartheid and also those who have come to repent if they had any part in these past injustices. Whites (these ones in particular) who benefitted from the unjust apartheid system may have a moral responsibility to use their privilege to help those who are under-privileged but they cannot be held morally responsible for past injustices and the term white privilege reeks of an accusatory tone I would rather stay clear of.

While I am not the topic: I often hear this point conceded, namely, that whites today are not necessarily guilty of the injustices from which they are benefitting but must use their “privilege” to serve the under-privileged. I have to ask myself, is that not the Christian expectation for every believer – irrespective of perceived socio-economic privilege or race– to do good to others and selflessly seek the benefit of others? Are all Christians not specially privileged in Christ and therefore responsible to use this privilege to serve others? I’m uncomfortable in receiving the good works of those who act out of the guilt of privilege, especially if their good works are only directed toward a person of colour.

A white Christian’s good works and acts of love to a black Christian should be out of obedience to Scripture to do good to all and love for God and neighbor– and not merely black Christians and certainly not at the exclusion of white Christians. A white Christian must do good to a black Christian because He is also doing good to a white Christian – it must be his life that is given in service to all that bears fruit in his good works towards blacks and coloureds, If motivated by guilt provoked by the term white privilege the white Christian is moved to only be (overly above more) charitable towards a black Christian does he not show partiality towards his own white skinned people? In short, irrespective of the background or skin colour hard work, diligence, taking responsibility and applying wisdom in life contributes significantly towards advancement in life and this must be, shown to be, appreciated. However, the term white privilege tends to disregard this and consequently breeds disregard and disrespect.

2. IT DOES NOT SUFFICIENTLY APPRECIATE THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.

Do we sufficiently account for the providence of God and thereby the wisdom of God in executing the benevolent will of God, when we frame the advancement and material well-being of certain people-groups or races as only due to skin-based-privileges obtained through oppressive and unjust means? I don’t mean to suggest I’ve got this issue pinned down but I’m trying to think through it.  I think we can affirm both providence and injustices as a reality in the world and do not necessarily have to see them as mutually exclusive in its reality in the God’s world. However, in many of the discussions by Christians on social issues like privilege and race I rarely hear a robust theological exposition of the doctrine of providence and divine sovereignty that ought to inform these things and that ought to provide comfort and hope.

Of course I’m not arguing for the justification of injustices on the grounds of providence but for the inclusion into our discussion of injustice the place of God’s providence and good purposes it intends to accomplish especially for those on the end of injustices. Much of the social agenda which inform terms such as white privilege does not sufficiently engage with theology apart from a few references to “the golden rule” or “justice” passages in the Old Testament. What we have today is more an exegesis of the socio-political realities and an exposition of racial injustices without really grounding this in the self-disclosed revelation of our personal God.  I personally would like to see more theology done by Christians who are sympathetic towards the social agenda today.

Scripture makes clear that God is behind one nation rising up and another being brought down, God promotes and demotes, God makes rich and makes poor. God is never an uninvolved spectator merely watching things unfold.  But surely God wouldn’t promote and advance an unjust nation or people? Well, while God is not the author of injustice or Himself unjust, we do have examples in the Bible where God raises up and prospers the unjust efforts of barbarous nations for His own sovereign and benevolent purposes.

I am not saying apartheid was God’s work. I am not saying the unjust advancement of white people during apartheid and the unjust discrimination of black people during apartheid was God’s doing. Nevertheless, I wonder if we are able to appreciate the mystery of providence in the amidst of injustices if we persist with a reductionist term such as white privilege to explain the socio-economic complexities between races in God’s good yet fallen world. I would even go further and say, I think the term white privilege is better accommodated in a deistic theological worldview instead of a biblically providential worldview.

There is a video going around on social media that seeks to explain white privilege. A group of people are about to begin a race for a $100 and it is a group made up of whites and blacks. The person calling the race notifies the white and black participants that he will be making a few statements and if it is relevant to you you’re allowed a step forward, however, if it doesn’t you must remain where you are. He then makes a series of statements and asks questions about cultural, social and family experiences. Those to whom these statements spoke to favorably got to take steps to the front and as it were it was only the white participants to whom his questions spoke to favorably and it spoke to them favourably only because they were white. Thus the white participants constantly got an advantage, ahead of the black participants who never moved, even before the race began. This was done to illustrate how white privilege effects the lives we lead because whites typically start with an advantage whereas black do not.

The illustration is good as far as it goes for the secular person but it seriously breaks down at the introduction of God’s providence. Providence teaches me that irrespective of where I begin and irrespective of what injustices impacted me I will end up exactly where God has willed for me to end up! Perhaps it is not God’s will for my life to run for a $100 bill but to actually run for a $50 dollar bill and my life experience, which He is sovereign over, is set out in such a way that His purposes for my life is realized and not necessarily my purposes for my life. I wonder where Joseph would have been WITHOUTH THE INJUSTICES HE SUFFERED. This is not to mention that God’s greatest work, our salvation, was accomplished sovereignly through the acts of atrocious injustices performed by sinful men but still within the providence of God who remained just and holy and righteous. Redemption is not only occasioned by the reality of injustice but it was accomplished in a very real sense through acts of injustice (Acts 2:22-24)!

As a believer in a God who has not abandoned this world but instead sustains the world moving it along according to His purpose and who is working out everything providentially even numbering the very hairs on my head (which is fast disappearing) my life is purposed and lived out in God’s hands.

Since the fall in Genesis 3, God has always been working good in an unjust world and this climaxed in God triumphing over injustice decisively at the cross and through Christ’s resurrection. The failure to set forth God’s providence in a fallen world deprives the Christian on the end of injustice to properly perceive and appreciate his life in God’s hands. I think a robust engagement with the doctrine of providence can bring a racially discriminated believer to truly rejoice in and boldly confess that his or her life is not essentially in the hands of the oppressor but in the hands of the sovereign and benevolent God who only wills good! As a coloured man, I will never be defined or ultimately determined by whatever fallen earthly conditions I live in or what privileges I was deprived from. This does not mean injustice won’t affect me or discrimination won’t impede me. This does not mean I will not suffer unfair treatment. This does not even mean that I will have every opportunity available to me that is available to another person who looks outwardly lighter than me.

That God requires I live justly is not a promise that I will live free from injustice nor is to be construed that injustice binds the hands of God disabling Him to work good towards me.

However, what this does mean is that as a Christian everything God has purposed for me will be realized through the means of faith in Christ, diligence in effort, obedience to Scripture and observing the means of grace given me. Nothing can alter God’s good purpose for me and He works all things together for my good (Romans 8:28) – ask Joseph! This does not necessarily mean my material, economic and social advancement in life is absolutely guaranteed despite injustices around me but it does mean that whatever God has planned for my life will not fail. My greatest threat to the flourishing of my life is not the privilege of a lighter skinned person, nor the injustices of some supposed autonomous political party, not even the faceless oppressive systemic forces of structural injustices, but the disobedience of a sin stained heart to the sovereign Lord of all the earth.  

3. IT CAN GENERATE A SELF-PITY DISPOSITION ON MY PART

I do not trust my heart to speak to any matter that I feel aggrieved in and to do so without bias and selfishness. So to grant my heart the privilege to call out the privilege of others is a privilege I have great difficulty accepting because I’m well aware that I am not able to deal fairly especially when I feel treated unfairly. The term white privilege can do me more harm than good. When I look at the advancement of any person, but for the sake of the argument let’s say a white person, and I see how well in life they are doing. They are prospering economically, they are prospering educationally, they are prospering socially, instead of being motivated to apply myself so that, within God’s determined plan, I can excel in life it is easier for me to label them as white privileged and then sulk!

When I look at my life and the dissatisfaction I experience economically, educationally, and socially I can easily justify potential lack of diligence and use of wisdom on my part, and blame it all on not being sufficiently “privileged”. I guess it also has to do with the way I was brought up. My mother taught me not to look with big eyes at what others have i.e. to look covetously at others. My mother taught me not to think the world owes me something and not to feel sorry for myself. I cringe when I think of making my children aware of the privilege of another person – it is totally contrary to how I was brought up.

I must also be honest and say that the term white privilege has accentuated my already problematic and sinful perception of white people. I never grew up around white people during my child-hood and even teenage years rarely, if ever, made contact with white people. And because of apartheid there was this obvious separation which to me appeared solely on the grounds that white people are just better in every respect. As I grew up I obviously realized this is not true but then shifted over the other extreme. Whenever I would receive some unfavorably reception from a white person or a “look” I regarded condescending it brought to my mind my initial impression of white people (that they are better than me) but only now I had slightly modified that perception and told myself: “they think they are better than me”. I then subtly imputed racist motives to white people I felt wasn’t engaging me as I wanted to and justified it with a notion that makes using the term white privilege only a bigger problem for me.

In fact I think many coloureds and blacks are struggling with what I see and have termed: white suspicion, which I define as interpreting every seemingly unfavorable act or intention from a white person as one of superiority and suspecting, when there really is no reason, that a white person is being condescending and racist. This does not mean white people aren’t capable of treating coloured or black people badly (and visa-versa), but it does not necessarily have to be race motivated, and making it race motivated and not sinful-heart motivated misdiagnosis the problem and makes it difficult for the proper treatment of the gospel to be applied as the solution. Apart from the problem the term creates for white people I just know that I can’t trust myself with such a term.

Conclusion

Let me be clear, there are most certainly benefits and advantages socially in just being white that are not always there for those who are coloured or black. But I think it intellectually lazy to characterize this as just a matter of white privilege and thus fail to carefully consider other aspects that may also contribute – some of which I dealt with above.Screenshot_20180410-104300

I understand that behind the inflammatory “check your privilege” idea is the notion that one would be able to be more sympathetic towards those disadvantaged and discriminated if you were to do so. However, sympathy and compassion for the marginalized and discriminated shouldn’t come from a call to look at ones privileges but from an upward look to our Saviour which then results in an inward look passed material and social benefits to the potential corruption of the soul that deters compassion and love toward others less privileged. This then is only addressed through the application of the gospel. Checking your privilege is not comparable to Christian sanctification and embracing white privilege is not necessarily being pious.

I choose not to use the term white privilege and I think the vocabulary of the gospel gives me sufficient and charitable language to address the sins of partiality and injustice. Perhaps it is time to appropriate the grammar of Scripture to address the hearts of people instead of uncritically adopting the language of whatever social agenda comes up?

LEARNING TO BE A MOTHER, WITH GOD AS YOUR FATHER

by graceboer

IMG-20170130-WA0004[A guest post by my wife: Grace aka Gracious.]

Just over a year ago I became a first time mom to a beautiful boy, Matthew Thomas Boer. The journey that I had experienced was a special one, as many mothers would agree. Many mothers would also agree that with this burst of excitement come anxiety, fear and self-doubt. Becoming a mother is such a daunting experience that you often wonder if you are ‘cut out’ for it. I look at my mom and compare her to my mother-in-law and I am amazed at how beautifully different they have raised their kids yet having one thing in common.

I see these two mothers as strong women, living in a time of struggle, working in and outside of the home, tending to their respective husbands and still making sure their kids were clothed and fed. I ask myself, how? I then realized that the one thing these women have in common is their devoted love for and trust in God. And so it dawned on me, any female can become a mother but to become a god-fearing mother you need to acknowledge God as your Father.

I had such an easy and pleasant pregnancy until the day leading up to Matthew’s birth. I remember seeing the doctor for my regular appointment and upon the routine blood pressure check, she became alarmed with the readings. She urged me to rather be booked in at the hospital for a few days just to monitor my blood pressure and to make sure my baby and I were safe. And so I complied. After being in hospital for a few days she scheduled my next appointment for the following week and before I could get to the scheduled date, Matthew was ready to make his appearance. I endured 12 hours of labour an unexpected emergency C- section and a surface infection a week thereafter. This period was probably one of the scariest experiences I had ever faced.

I’m unashamed to say that I – a married woman of a new born baby boy –  nested like a baby at moms place for some time and I did not want to go back home. To be honest, I was fearful of raising baby Matthew as I felt that most of the care and responsibility would rest on me as the mother. With tears in my eyes my husband, who was lovingly by my side through this entire ordeal, encouraged me and assured me that all will be well. He assured me that I would be okay and that we will handle the challenges of our new journey together. And so I went home…

Clinging on to his words and seeing how true he was to his words, made it all the more easier for Matthew and I to settle in, and so we did. I had such a beautiful idealistic picture in my mind of our little family and how we would parent Matthew and still get to enjoy the beauty of married life. About 3 to 4 months after Matthew’s birth, I felt like I was losing it. It felt like this picture I had was merely just that, a picture that cannot be sustained despite my best efforts and all  the exertion of my energy. Motherhood was not what I expected.

Many nights I cried myself to sleep wondering whether or not in all I was doing, I was doing the right thing. The pressure of rearing an infant and feeling like you are all alone is one of the worst feelings to have. Though my husband was his supportive self, I was too overwhelmed to realize or appreciate his help and partnership in parenting. I was overwhelmed by the cries of a baby, the fevers that broke out, the lack of sleep, the fear of being outdoors with him and worst of all, the feeling of doing it all on my own. To be honest, it felt like I had lost a significant part of me during these first few months.

As a woman, I had endured the bittersweet pleasure of pregnancy, the traumatizing and fearful reality of knowing your life and your baby could potentially be in danger, the physical pain of recovery, and then to have these emotional struggles and insecurities of motherhood was cause to lose your mind. I am sure every mother can relate a story or an experience perhaps different or similar to mine, but at the time I felt like I was the only mother in the world having these miserable and unpleasant feelings about motherhood which led to a flood of guilt because I knew my baby didn’t deserve it.

I often tried to mask my fears and insecurities for fear of being judged by more experienced moms or the younger confident moms. However, inwardly I felt like I was doing a terrible job. I felt that I was unable to tend to my home, love my husband and even care for myself because my baby needed ALL 100% of ME.  However, amidst the overwhelmingly unrealistic expectations and pressures I placed on myself, my experience and especially my struggles as a first time mom has taught me the following lesson:

TO BE AN EFFECTIVE MOTHER, I NEED GOD, MY HEAVENLY FATHER

I have tried to do mothering on my own, my rules, my ways, my opinions – STRESSES AND WORRIES – because I am the mother. In my mind and leaning on my understanding I thought, I had more of a right than anyone else in how I choose to raise my child. But I struggled because I ended up neglecting many things which are equally important in life.

Self-sufficiency is tiresome. Isolating oneself is exhausting. Unhealthy independence is hard work. Self-reliance is madness! I didn’t know how to celebrate motherhood and rejoice in my bundle of joy with my husband, with my friends and more so in God. My time was spent trying to tick off the check box and in doing so I became exhausted and sadly spiritually weak.

However, how was I going to point my son to God if I am not always leaning on Him? How am I going to instill godly values if I was not exercising godliness? How was I going to portray a godly view to my child on marriage if I was not deliberately working on my marriage? I knew that Matthew needed a mother but in order for me to be a god-fearing mother, I was in desperate need of my heavenly Father!IMG-20171026-WA0004

It was with this growing realization that I came to abandon my reign and submitted to my Heavenly Father and realized that in order for me to be the most effective mother I needed God as my Father. He who gave me the blessing of motherhood also intends to help me to be a mother. This has been a really refreshing lesson to have learned and one perfectly summed up by Proverb 3. A passage relevant to all of life and in this case especially mothering

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord and shun evil. – Proverbs 3:5-7

Unsolicited Thoughts on Black Panther

by Riaan

INTRODUCTION

So, I went to see Black Panther about 2 months after it was released. I wish I could say that my reason for waiting so long was to wait until all the hype and frenzy surrounding the movie subsided so I can watch it with a clear and sober mind – free from all the hysteria. However, if I am honest, I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie at all. While I’m an average Marvel enthusiast, which makes me instinctively excited about any Marvel movie. I was, however, completely put off by this one. Not because I anticipated the movie will be bad or for any other reason but the extreme hype surrounding the movie. It seemed to me in some Christian quarters a transformation of the wrong kind was happening, a kind of a wakandafication of the kingdom of God that necessitated a pantherization of the gospel which was fueled by the all too common racialization of Christianity.

However in deciding which movie to watch, my wife who is unaware of much the hype surrounding the movie, suggested we go see it and I complied and went. My initial, black pantheroverall and unsolicited opinion of the movie: IT WAS A GREAT MOVIE AND WE ENTIRELY, COMPLETELY, GENUINELY ENJOYED IT! My awareness though of the hype and excitement about the movie, of course caused me to watch it carefully and discernibly and this in turn motivated me to write down some of my thoughts. I’m not a movie critic. This is not a movie review. I did not intend on going to watch the movie so I can write something about it. I’m merely writing down my thoughts unsolicited – as they may be – perhaps to add to the already-on-going conversation and provide ‘a’ perspective. Here are four major thoughts on “Black Panther”:

1. IT WAS A GREAT MARVEL MOVIE

While my wife has seen most Marvel movies with me in the cinema she has also found herself asleep throughout many of these 2 hour long block busters. I guess she’s not the biggest Marvel fan. However, she was the first to glow with excitement at what a good movie Black Panther was. She enjoyed the story-line and found it riveting, appealing, entertaining and it captivated her throughout. When T’Challa, for instance, “dies”, she was observably troubled and turned to me as if to say “really?” When he came to “life” again she was clearly surprised and excited and turned to me as if to say “You see!!!! He lives!!!” We both really enjoyed the movie.

Firstly, I think the movie was enjoyable because unlike the other Marvel movies there was as deliberate attempt to tell a moving story and to place the narrative within a broader social reality e.g. the oppressive and marginalized history of black people. For this reason, I don’t think it is fair to compare it with other Marvel movies because that is just not the aim of the other Marvel movies. However, Black Panther was a particularly good movie because it was based on the rich and relevant “black experience”.

Secondly, it was nice to see a predominantly all-black cast with traditional African culture so prominent in a 21 century Hollywood block buster. Typically movies with these elements in them are relegated to a lower level and sometimes do not even feature on the big screen. So, that was refreshing,

Thirdly, the message was a good message. The line that echoes in my mind and sums up the message of the movie very well for me is in post credits scene where T’Challa addresses the UN and says “there is more that unites us than divides us” and I think that message of equality and our shared humanity was a good one! I also enjoyed the somewhat complementarian nature of the roles of men and women in the movie. Complementarianism affirms that men and women are essentially equal but with different functioning roles that doesn’t necessary reflect some kind of essential superiority of one above the other. The movie (unintentionally and naturally) held this tension together quite well.

2. THE MOVIE WAS NOT DISCERNIBLY CHRISTIAN

Now there are many attempts to Christianize the movie or to pantherize Christianity. However the movie was just not a Christian movie! And this is not a bad thing! I’ve watched and enjoyed many Marvel movies – none of which claimed to be Christian even remotely – and I enjoyed them all despite it not being Christian. In fact, there are many good movies – especially movies based on true stories during WW1 or WW2 – that are also not essentially Christian but have really good messages of human heroism/sacrifice, courage and love.

Now of course courage, love and heroism are not anti-Christian but they are biblical virtues to be admired and if by these broadly biblical virtues we mean a movie is Christian then yes sure Black Panther is vaguely Christian. But that would make many other movies Christian as well, any movie really, where there is love, courage and sacrifice etc. However, what I mean by “Black Panther is not discernibly Christian” is that it does not have any traces of redemptive themes such a substitutionary atonement or even sacrificial love (at least the sacrificial love part is not a major part of the movie). In other words, the movie is not a gospel movie and therefore not a Christian movie. So for example, I don’t see Jesus in T’Challa nor any substitutionary or redemptive themes.

3. IT DIDN’T NEED THE SUBTLE ANTI-WHITE RHETORIC

Now maybe it’s a bit too strongly stated but that was my initial impression when it came to certain parts of the movie. Four scenes in particular stand-out 1) When N’Jadaka speaks to the white Museum expert – and it was deliberately arranged that the Museum expert be white else the scene wouldn’t work– and seem to indict her in the atrocities of colonialism. This to me sends a strong message of imputing guilt to white people in general – which is not fair. 2) When T’Challa’s sister refers to Bilbo Baggins 🙂  who plays a white CIA operative as “Colonizer”. Now, this particular white man has shown great heroism and selflessness in the movie yet he is branded as a colonizer. 3) When T’Challa’s sister is about the help and heal the white CIA operative who selflessly stood in front a bullet for a black Wakandian woman she response (paraphrase) “I have to fix another broken white man”. 4) When the poor (eish!) white CIA operative stands before M’Baku and while the 3 black woman are given a hearing when he wants to say something he is muted out by M’baku and his tribe and told in no uncertain terms to not speak and the reason for that is obvious: he is white and does not have a say!

I think this last scene especially allows me to say it is anti-white rhetoric. Some may argue it’s anti-colonial rhetoric but that argument only works in the scene with the white Museum expert lady. I don’t think these four examples take away from the movie, but I also do not think they add anything to the movie and the movie didn’t need this at all!

4. THE BLACK ON BLACK VIOLENCE SHOW THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM

While the final scenes unfolded with an all-out war in Wakanda and black people fighting black people, even family members (husband and wife) taking sides I must admit that was a plot twist for me. I expected the movie to move towards some kind of ending where the black people of Wakanda stand together in defending and fighting some foreign oppressive potentially white invader-colonizer-capitalist enemy. So, as the scene unfolds with black on black war in Wakanda, I was a bit surprised. And I think this makes a point intended or unintended and that is,  the real problem we have in our world is not to be defined merely in terms of the colour of one’s skin but the ideological constructs that spring forth from a fallen heart we hold to so deeply!

T’Challa fights N’Jadaka not because of the colour of his skin but because of N’Jadaka’s hatred in his heart and inclination towards evil. N’Jadaka comes up against T’Challa not because of the colour of T’Challa skin but because of an injustice against him when his father was killed and he was left alone. The movie then demonstrates that hatred and injustices do not have skin-based preferences but are the fruit of the fallen human heart. The hatred demonstrated by N’Jadaka and the injustice committed by T’Challa’s father (both black men) are then obviously not white issues but fallen human heart issues.

CONCLUSION

Though Black Panther is by no means a movie based on the gospel it does in its own unintentional way give us the reason why we need the gospel. Hatred, injustice and oppression acted out against people, especially on the superficial basis of skin-colour preferences are cruel and abhorrent fruits of a fallen human heart that is in rebellion against the God in whose image we have been created. This is not merely a sin against others but an act of high treason and rebellion against the Creator God and is damnable and subject to God’s judgment. Fallen human beings must be brought to account before this holy God. However, the good news is that God in His eternal love sends His only begotten Son to take on Himself the punished and condemnation so that every fallen human being who trusts in God’s Son will be saved from God’s judgment, reconciled through God’s Son and united to God’s family, the church wherein we are all one, and there is no male or female, Greek of Jew and we can add white or black!

Black Panther is not a gospel movie nor does it have any sanctifying value really. As a movie (production, cast, acting, story-line) Black Panther was really good. Like all movies Black Panther had a message. Like many movies today it was not a bad message but one the world sure needs to hear more of and that is, we have much more (ontologically) that unite us as a human race than that which (superficially) divide us.

 

DON’T CRUCIFY THE TRINITY AT THE CROSS

by Riaan

Introduction

Easter is the time of the year we as believers commemorate the death, burial and resurrection of our precious Savior and glorious Lord, Jesus Christ.  The events of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection are pretty straight forward and they are recorded for us clearly and plainly in the four gospels (Matt. 27-28, Mark 15, Luke 23-24, John 19-20). This makes preaching the gospel, with special reference to the cross, a pretty straight forward exercise – so much so that a section of Paul’s audience, upon hearing him preach the message of Christ and him crucified, called it foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18).

However, what we often neglect when we rehearse the events of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection is the deeply Trinitarian nature of Jesus’ redemptive work. It’s important we avoid conveying any notion that Jesus acted alone or place such an emphasis on Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection that would cause us to forget the Father and the Spirit. As important as the gospel is, it is essentially a Trinitarian gospel in that it is good news from a Triune God. In fact without a sound doctrine of the Trinity we have no gospel.

So it makes it even more important that in our consideration of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) we aim to be entirely Trinitarian. If the point of this post gets lost along the way, all I’m trying to think through is how important Trinitarian theology is for a more complete understanding of Christ’s work on the cross. Whether I manage to clearly demonstrate it here or not, it is my hope that we would be persuaded of how essentially important a good and faithful Trinitarian theology is in articulating any aspect of our faith but specifically Christ’s work on the cross. We will do well then to heed this important reminder from the theologian Scott Swain, “The doctrine of the Trinity is not simply one article among many within the Christian confession. It is the first and fundamental article of the faith, and the framework within which all other articles receive their meaning and import, because the Triune God is the efficient, restorative and perfecting principle of all things in nature, grace and glory”1.  

We must, therefore, not neglect or hold loosely the doctrine of the Trinity when we think about the death of Jesus. But we must proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the only way it ought to be proclaimed – in a Trinitarian context. It is therefore important that we not lose sight of the Trinity when we focus on the cross or to state it differently, we must not crucify the Trinity at the cross. I want to focus particularly at how some aspects of the cross must be considered within a Trinitarian frame work supported of course by good Trinitarian theology. Doing this I propose will grant us an even deeper appreciation for the cross as the work of the one Triune God.

  1. The Death of the Son and the Three Distinct Persons

Let me start by what the title of this post seem to obviously be getting at – and perhaps this is where your mind went when you saw the title. That is, when we talk about the cross and the crucifixion it is important to maintain the distinctiveness of the divine persons.  We cannot crucify the entire Godhead on the cross or we cannot make as if it doesn’t matter which of the divine persons died on the cross. In the doctrine of the Trinity we affirm that the One God exists eternally as three distinct Persons. The medieval Trinitarian symbol known as the “shield of faith” or “the shield of the Trinity” illustrates the distinctiveness of the persons very well.

The_Trinity

So, because the Father is not the Son, and because we clearly know from Scripture that the Son died on the cross, we cannot then use the persons, or names of the persons of the Godhead interchangeable and think we are still saying the same thing. In other words we cannot say it was the Father who died on the cross because 1) it was the Son and 2) we must maintain the distinctive nature of the persons of the Trinity – with respect of course to the doctrine of inseparable operations (more on this shortly). So it was not the Father who died but the Son.

Now this seems like such a blatantly obvious point that we may not even be able to conceive how any self-respecting Christian would say such a thing. However, we would be surprise how our prayers betray our theological convictions and I’ve heard many prayers in which the Father is being thanked for dying on the cross e.g. “thank  you Father God for dying on the cross for our sins” or “Father God you shed your blood for us”. It is then with such anti-Trinitarian affirmations that we crucify good Trinitarian theology at the cross.

  1. The Cry of Dereliction and the One Divine Essence

One of the more shocking aspects of the crucifixion has to be Jesus’ cry of dereliction recorded for us in the gospels (see Matt. 27:46). This cry of dereliction or abandonment is of course a quote from Psalm 22 “My God, my God why have thou forsaken me” (Ps. 22:1).  This has informed some of our favourite hymns and led us to sing lines like “the Father turns his face away”. However, Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross can lead to serious theological pitfalls if not parsed carefully with good biblical and creedal Trinitarian theology.

Whatever it might mean for the Father to have forsaken the Son, and whatever it means for the Father to turn His face away from the Son, it cannot mean that there was an ontological break in the Trinity and we must be careful lest we convey such a message.

We, therefore, must not understand or convey Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross as somehow referring a break and rupture in the Trinity. Theology blogger and author, Derek Rishmawy helpfully notes that, “One common mistake is to speak as if the cross momentarily divided the Trinity”2. He goes on to explain how rich hymns like the one noted above, can give us the mistaken impression that “on the cross, God unleashed his judgment on Jesus in such a way that ontologically separated the Father from the Son”2. In other words,  we cannot have a situation where the persons of the Trinity turn on each other – for any reason whatsoever – and still have a faithful biblical and creedal doctrine of the Trinity. We must maintain a unity of divine essence by insisting that there was no break in the Trinity at Jesus’ cry of dereliction. As the theology professor, Matt Emerson cautions, “Anything we say about the cry of dereliction needs to retain the oneness of the Godhead, both with respect to rejecting any ontological or relational division between Father and Son…” 3

So how can we speak about Jesus’ cry of dereliction – as abandonment from God – without appearing to break up the ontological unity of the Trinity? John Calvin helps us to think through this in his Institutes when he writes “the Scriptures…sometimes attribute to him [Jesus] qualities which should be referred specially to his humanity, and sometimes qualities applicable peculiarly to his divinity…”4. In others words, we are better served in these instances to speak of some realities as “according to” his divine nature and some “according to” his human nature (see Rishmawy). We can then say God the Father forsook His Son according to the Son’s human nature, and the Father was never separated from His Son ontologically according to the Son’s divine nature. Therefore while the Father abandoned the Son “according to his human nature” there was no break in Trinitarian relations ontologically. At the cross, God abandoned His Son (according to his human nature) and yet abided with his Son (according to his divine nature).

But lest we also crucify our Christology at the cross (in the not-so-good way) by inferring from Jesus’ two natures that somehow he has two persons – one divine and one human – let us be quick to affirm with the Chalcedonian Creed (451) the following about Jesus in reference to his two natures, he is “one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” 5. We can then agree with Michael Horton when he writes, “Each nature is entirely preserved in its distinctness yet in and as one person”. Jesus has two nature in one person6.

Back to the cry of dereliction and Christ’s separation from the Father according to his human nature:  In demonstrating this idea of speaking of some realities “according to” either human or divine nature, Calvin offers a number of examples. For instance, Calvin writes, “Christ said of himself, “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58)”7. He then comments that this statement of Christ “was very foreign to his humanity7 i.e. not spoken in accordance to his human nature.  Likewise, we can then conclude that Christ’s cry of dereliction is very foreign to his divinity i.e. not spoken according to his divine nature but spoken and occurred according to his human nature. However this does not impugn the oneness of his person or the one divine essence of the Trinity he shares in fully.

  1. The Work of Redemption and Inseparable Operations

We know that God is not a static Being but an active Being who works. The works of the one Triune God include creation, preservation, redemption and salvation and these works are also known as his external works or external operations. However, as one God who exists eternally as three Persons, the operations of God externally are inseparable. Scott Swain explains, “The three persons do not merely “cooperate” in their external works, as if each person contributed his distinct part to a larger operational whole. All of God’s external works – are works of the three divine persons enacting one divine power, ordered by one divine wisdom, expressing one divine goodness and manifesting one divine glory”8.

The systematic theologian Fred Sanders elaborates, “That the external works of the Trinity are undivided means that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit concur in every work. They don’t concur merely by division of labor, claiming particular parts of a collaborative project; they concur more deeply. They concur in every part of every work. Every single created effect worked by God is worked by the three as one9.”  In other words, as it relates to the work of redemption, it was not only a work of the Son but also a work of the Father and the Spirit.

Much more could be said but this brief explanation of the doctrine of inseparable operations is sufficient to make the point. The point is that in the atonement i.e. the vicariously propitiatory death of Christ on the cross was not merely the Son who alone acted while the Father and Spirit stood aside, but the atonement is the inseparable work of the Trinity. Now, of course we are not saying the Father suffered with the Son (this is an ancient heresy called patripassianism). However, as R.C. Sproul explains,

Although it is the incarnate Son, touching His human nature, who atones for our sin, all three persons work inseparably to effect the atonement that secures our salvation. Both Father and Son offer up the Son for our redemption, the Father as the subject who offers and the Son as both the subject who offers and the object who, touching His human nature, is offered (Rom. 8:31–32; Heb. 9:13–14). And when the Father and Son offer up the Son, They do so in the Spirit, who by His “efficacious power” makes Christ’s death as a man under divine wrath saving for us (Calvin; see Heb. 9:13–14). Atonement is from the Father through the Son who is offered in the Spirit for our salvation. It is a work of holy love by all three persons of the Trinity10.

This shows us then how the doctrine of inseparable operations of the Trinity deepens our understanding and appreciation of atonement itself. MacArthur and Mayhue writes, “Though one person or another may be emphasized in a particular work, no one person does any work exclusively of the other two persons, for as the classic dictum states, ‘the eternal works of the Trinity are undivided’ (opera Trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt)11. Fascinatingly, we can make application of the doctrine of inseparable operations even to the work of God pouring out His wrath at the cross. The out pouring of divine wrath and judgment at the cross is a work that is done by the Triune God – it is the Triune God’s judgment and wrath that requires propitiation.

In other words it is not only the Father’s wrath, but the Son’s wrath and the Spirit’s wrath too.  I think our default position on this matter is merely to think that the Father took on the prerogative to pour out wrath on behalf of the one Triune God but on the basis of God’s inseparable operations we must insist that in judging sins at the cross and pouring our divine wrath and seeking propitiation (or any external work of God for that matter) it was the Son and Spirit along with the Father who are involved.

As Matt Emerson writes, “It is not only the Father that pours out wrath; the Son and the Spirit, as the other two persons of the one God, also pour out the one wrath of the one God.12 So then the Son directly received the very wrath He was directly involved in pouring out. It interesting that though I make this point as an illustration of inseparable operations it can easily (perhaps even more appropriately) be made under the point of One Divine Essence.

  1. The Shedding of Blood and One Person of Christ

So far I’ve been looking at theological perspectives that are at times left out of our theology of the cross because we’ve neglected to some degree our theology of the Trinity. A good Trinitarian theology though is closely connected to good Christology – what we believe about God is connected to what we believe about Christ.

We have already touched on Jesus’ two natures in one person i.e. Christ has a fully divine nature and fully human nature in one person. We cannot separate his two natures to the extent that we cut up his one person. We do this when we draw too sharp a distinction between his human and divine nature in the act of atonement. Though the blood Jesus shed was according to his human nature – as there is no blood in his divine nature – the blood he shed though according to his distinct human nature was shed by the one God-man.

In other words the source of the act of blood-shedding  is limited to the specific nature, namely  his human nature,  but the attribution of the act of blood-shedding,  namely who did it,  is ascribed to the whole  one  person of Jesus the God-man. At this point Michael Horton is both helpful and eloquent when he writes, “The blood that he brings into the heavenly sanctuary to atone for his brothers and sisters is human blood (Heb. 9:11-10:18), yet because of the unity of the person it can be called the blood of God13.  

Conclusion

The great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck writes “In the doctrine of the Trinity beats the heart of the whole revelation of God for the redemption of humanity”14. It is therefore necessary that in thinking about Christ’s atoning work on the cross that we think of it as a work of the one Triune God and in thinking in such a Trinitarian framework we may yet grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth of this love of God demonstrated at the cross while we were yet sinners and so know this love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and that fills us up in all the fullness of God.

 

References

  1. Quote taken from his chapter “Divine Trinity” in Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic pg. 78
  2. Quote taken from his excellent blog post: 3 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Good Friday Sermon which influenced a lot of my thinking on this issue.
  3. Quote taken from his very helpful blog post: Parameters for Talking about the the Cry of Dereliction
  4. Quote taken from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book II chapter 14.1).
  5. Quoted in Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith page 468
  6. Quote taken from Michael Horton’s “The Christian Faith” page 468
  7. Quote taken from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bo Quoted in Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith page 468
  8. ok II chapter 14.1).
  9. Quote taken from Scott Swain’s helpful blog post: Pro-Nicene Theology: Inseparable Operations (link)
  10. Quote taken from Fred Sanders blog post: The Whole Trinity Worked the Incarnation of the Son
  11. Quote taken from an online article:The Trinity and Atonementon the Ligonier website
  12. Quote taken from the newly published “Biblical Doctrine” edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue pg. 192
  13. Quote taken from his blog post: Parameters for Talking about the Cry of Dereliction
  14. Quote taken from Michael Horton’s “The Christian Faith” pg. 273