White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Not Having a Righteousness of My Own, Part 3

In the last blog piece I discussed Paul’s use of the word “dung” to describe not his sins, but his righteousness. He goes on to say that he desires to be “found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9)

Here, we are confronted with one of the crucial components of the gospel message. Sometimes Catholics will argue that the Protestant doctrine of justification amounts to a “legal fiction.” That is, if you say that you are still a sinner but that you are righteous “in Christ” (what Luther called simul justus et peccator), then you are actually telling a kind of untruth or fiction.

But this criticism actually exposes a critical flaw. If our doctrine is to be condemned on the grounds of a legal fiction due to our belief in the idea that we are declared righteous while we are actually not, then what are we to do with the idea that Jesus was considered a sinner when he was in fact personally righteous? In other words, if you stick with this argument, you’ll ultimately undermine the substitutionary atonement.

The idea of an alien righteousness is the witness of both the prophets and the apostles. Paul here is focusing not on his own works, but on Christ’s. Similarly, Jeremiah wrote of coming day when a righteous branch would finally spring up out of the house of David, resulting in salvation for God’s people. “And this is the name by which he will be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness'” (Jer 23:6).

This is also the witness of the early church. Some have tried to argue that Luther came up with this idea of justification by an imputed righteousness. Though it is true that this particular doctrine had been obscured for centuries (and had in a real sense been recovered by Luther), we find it clearly articulated in the writings of various church fathers. A good example of this is Mathetes, who observed in 130 AD:

Christ Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

This idea of the great exchange, though clearly taught in Scripture, has at various points been controversial in the church. This was especially true at the time of the Reformation. In a tract called “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” John Calvin summarizes the thinking of his day:

It’s true Jesus is called a Redeemer, but this is understood in a manner which implies that men also, by their own free will, redeem themselves from the bondage of sin and death. True, he is called righteousness and salvation, but in a way that men can still procure salvation for themselves, by the merit of their works… True, Christ is said to have reconciled us to the Father, but with this reservation, that men, by their own satisfactions, buy off the punishments which they owe to the justice of God. When supplementary aid is sought… no more honor is paid to Christ than to saints such as Cyprian or Cyricius. For, in making up the treasury of the Church, the merits of Christ and of martyrs are thrown together in the same lump.

This Christ and this approach is exactly what frustrated Paul about the Judaizers. The Judaizers said that, in addition to believing in Jesus, one also needs to be circumcised in order to be saved. Unfortunately, this same spirit is plaguing the church in our day, even in Reformed circles. There are some who teach, for example, that we are saved by Christ, and by our own obedience or faithfulness to the covenant, and that, on the last day, the basis of our final justification will partly rest upon our good works.

But Paul does not say that if we do good works, we will be justified, but rather, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Peter also addresses this in his first epistle when he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” (1Pet 1:3-4). It’s an inheritance, not a wage; it’s rooted in God’s mercy, not our works; and it’s in heaven right now, waiting for us, rather than something that we currently possess.

In Phil 3:10-11, Paul then says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Here again we’re met with the verb “to know.” Many Christians in our day might wish to state this a little differently, something to the effect of, “I want to experience Christ and the power of his resurrection.” It’s certainly true that our knowledge of Christ has an experiential dimension to it (since we don’t merely know things about our savior, but we know him in relationship). But when “experience” or “relationship” becomes unmoored from doctrine and content, it quickly turns into mysticism, which is a huge problem in our time.

In the next blog post, we’ll draw some conclusions as we finish up with Philippians chapter 3.

Not Having a Righteousness of My Own, Part 2

In the last installment of this blog series, we introduced Paul’s letter to the Philippians as a companion to our current White Horse Inn series. In this piece, and for the remaining three installments, we’ll be focusing exclusively on Philippians chapter 3. In this chapter, Paul walks us through his own background as a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” a background which he ultimately presents as a hindrance to the gospel.

In the opening of chapter 3, Paul writes:

Phil. 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Who is Paul referring to as “dogs” in verse two? Jewish people regularly described Gentiles as “dogs,” but here Paul is using this word in a different sense. He says, “Look out for the dogs… those who mutilate the flesh.” This phrase might be mysterious on its own, but the next verse goes on to explain that he is thinking of the circumcision party. Also referred to as the Judaizers, these were Jewish believers in Christ who taught that a person needed to continue to keep all the laws and ceremonies of Moses in order to be saved. Paul addresses this issue most clearly in his epistle to the Galatians, even to the point of calling it another gospel (Gal 1:6).

What’s amazing here is that Paul uses the word “dogs,” which had formerly been used to describe Gentiles or those “outside the covenant,” including Jews who professed faith in Jesus’ messianic identity. Paul is saying here that race doesn’t matter and, ultimately, neither does denominational affiliation. Being Jewish is not enough, nor is belonging to a Bible-believing church. It’s not even enough to believe in Jesus if you end up adding your own works to the finished work of Christ. This is what places a person outside the covenant, and it is why Paul refers to these Judaizers as “dogs.”

3 For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

In Colossians chapter 2, Paul explains more fully what he means by this idea of “the real circumcision.” Starting with verse 11, he says,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh [literally: in the stripping off of the body of flesh], by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

What Paul is saying in this text is that there is no need for the ceremonial act of circumcision, since this particular blood oath covenant was merely a temporal placeholder that pointed to the ultimate and eternal blood oath covenant that we find in the cross of Christ. He suffered the stripping away not merely of the foreskin, but of his entire body, and this greater circumcision becomes ours by faith.

Phil 3:3 For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh

Paul here appears to be echoing Christ’s words to the woman at the well: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). In John 6:63 Jesus says that “the spirit gives life, the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Later, in John 15, Jesus says,that the Holy Spirit ” will testify about me” when he comes. Worshiping by the Spirit of God, then, is not related to ecstatic or exuberant worship experiences, as it is often misunderstood in our day. Instead, it is directly related to those who, as Paul says here in our text, “glory in Christ and put no confidence in the flesh.”

Phil 3:4 …though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.

We know, of course, that Paul was not inherently righteous or blameless. In Rom 7: “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” So here, when he speaks of blamelessness under the law, he is likely thinking exclusively of outward conformity. Inwardly, he was unclean. This is exactly what Jesus regularly communicated to the Pharisees during his earthly ministry: “Woe to you, for you are like whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27).

Phil 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Any goodness that Paul had claimed previously he is now putting in the debit column. All his outward obedience, all his zeal, all of it, he says, is worthless apart from Christ. Concerning his fellow Jews, Paul writes in Romans 10: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:2-4). In Phil. 3:8, Paul speaks of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Some people in our day don’t like to focus on this knowledge element, saying “I don’t want to know about God,” or “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” But zeal without knowledge is a serious problem. At the end of the day, we cannot trust someone we know nothing about, for otherwise we end up having faith in the idea of relationship rather than in Christ himself.

Paul goes so far as to call all his outward obedience rubbish. Not wanting to offend our sensibilities, most English Bible translators end up choosing the least offensive of the various translation possibilities for the word Paul uses here. In actuality, skubalon is a little cruder. According one Greek lexicon, the way this word is used by other ancient writers of the period makes the sense closer to “dung, filth, excrement, manure, or crud.” And what’s interesting is that Paul isn’t merely thinking of all his sin as dung, but his righteousness. We find this same sentiment in Isaiah 64:6: “all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.”

In the next installment of this series, we’ll continue this discussion of Philippians chapter 3. We will pick up in verse 9, where Paul places his trust in a righteousness that is not his own.

Not Having a Righteousness of My Own

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians sometime between 60 and 62 AD. So who exactly were the Philippians, and what was Paul’s relationship to them? According to the IVP Dictionary of Paul & His Letters:

Philippi was already a very old and historic city when Paul arrived and later wrote his letter to the Christians there. Philip of Macedon had built it in 358-57 BC. on the site of an ancient Thracian city located eight miles from the sea in a spring-filled, fertile region. He fortified it and named it after himself. Later Philippi became part of the Roman Empire and was made one of the stations along the main overland route connecting Rome with the East. Destroyed by wars, it was rebuilt by the Emperor Octavian, who established it as a military outpost, populated it with veterans of his wars, made it a Roman colony and gave it thehighest privilege obtainable by a provincial municipality. Consequently, as the citizens of Rome, so the citizens of Philippi could buy and sell property, were exempt from land tax and the poll tax and were entitled to protection by Roman law.

Google Maps places the ancient city of Philippi about 6 hours north (by car) of Athens. Romans predominantly inhabited it, but many Macedonian Greeks, along with a strong Jewish population, lived there as well. Its people were proud of their city and its ties with Rome.

Philippi is the primary setting for the events recorded in Acts 16, which takes place early in Paul’s second missionary journey (likely 49 AD). While in Philippi, Paul and Silas are dragged before the local magistrates after some claimed that they were disturbing their city (vs.19-20). The two were then put in jail, but while they were praying, an earthquake occurred and the prison doors were opened. This caused the Philippian jailer to ask of Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they answered him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (vs. 29-31). According to Acts 17, when they arrived in neighboring Thessalonica, Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues. Some of the unbelieving Jews formed a mob, which set the city in an uproar (1-5).

Interestingly enough, we know from a secular source that something identical to this happened in the city of Rome during this same year. The historian Suetonius records that in 49 AD, Jews were expelled from the capitol city of Rome for a time because they “caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus” (Life of Claudus 25). According to many of the early church fathers, it was common for Romans to mistake Christus for Chrestus, since the latter was a common Roman name. For example, Lactantius writes, “But the meaning of this name must be set forth, on account of the error of the ignorant, who by the change of a letter are accustomed to call Him Chrestus.” Similarly, Turtullian complained to one of his opponents that it is merely “by a faulty pronunciation that you call us ‘Chrestians.'” It is for reasons like this that there is general consensus among historians that the expulsion of the Jews from Rome under Claudius in 49 AD was a result of the chaos that resulted in the Jewish community as people were beginning to take different sides on the question of Jesus’ identity. Was he the messiah, or wasn’t he?

In other words, exactly what we read from Acts 16 & 17 in the cities of Philippi and Thessalonica is also happening in the capital city of Rome itself. Jews from Rome, you will recall, were present on the day of Pentecost some two decades earlier. No doubt by this time word about him had spread throughout Jewish communities that were longing for the fulfillment of OT promises. Suetonius says these particular disturbances among the Jews in Rome were continuous, so that the Emperor Claudius himself had to be called in to arbitrate. Luke records this same event in Acts 18:1-2, saying that when Paul arrived in Corinth, “he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.”

Thus the overall picture we discover is one of tremendous upheaval in the middle of first century Judaism throughout the Greco-Roman world. All of it centers on Jesus’ famous question to Peter, “Who do men say that I am?” If we fast-forward another decade to around 59 AD, we discover that Jews had been allowed to return to Rome and that Paul is with them, though in prison. It is from here that he writes his letter to the Philippians.

In the opening lines of his epistle Paul writes to the Philippian congregation, saying, “To the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” So right off the bat we discern a particular ecclesiastical structure. This structure is discovered when we focus on the words saints, elders, and deacons. In other words, it wasn’t simply every believer for himself. There were teaching elders who were called to look after the sheep, and there were deacons who were appointed to serve. But even more importantly, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, they were all referred to as saints. They were pure, consecrated, holy, sanctified, purified.

It is common for Paul to use the word “saints” in the introductions of his epistles, so it’s easy to overlook. However, we should stop and think about the significance of this word for a moment. Needless to say, it was uncommon for first century Jews to refer to a group of uncircumcised Gentiles “saints.” One would more likely hear the word “dogs.” We even get a hint of this in an analogy that Jesus himself uses, saying to a Gentile woman, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

So what happened? Why does this particular Pharisee refer to a congregation made up of mostly of uncircumcised gentile “dogs” as “saints”? He explains in verses 2-5. In Christ Jesus they have grace and peace. So whether they are Jews or Gentiles, these believers together have a partnership in the Gospel. This gospel is not about new resolutions, ethnic identity, social justice, or anything that any of us can invent. Rather, it is about the good news concerning the events in the life of one particular man who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” (2:6-7). This is substance of the Christian gospel that Paul goes on to outline in his letter to the Philippians.

In the next 3 installments of this blog series, we’ll focus primarily on Paul’s arguments in Philippians chapter 3 about his own background as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and why he came to the conclusion that all of his righteousness was rubbish.

WHI-1161 | Found in Christ, Part 1

On this program we begin a two-part series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Who were the Philippians, and what were the circumstances in which Paul wrote this letter? What is this epistle chiefly about? We will address these questions and more on this edition of White Horse Inn.

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Philippians
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WHI-1160 | Contending for the Faith

How did the apostles contend for the faith throughout the book of Acts? Did they share their testimonies or inner experiences? Did they encourage blind faith? On this special live edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts discuss the sermons in Acts in order to discover how to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.” (originally aired May 2, 2010).

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Review of Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

Crazy Busy

Crazy Busy
Kevin DeYoung
(Crossway, 2013)

Are you crazy busy? Kevin DeYoung certainly thinks so, and he shares your pain. He wrote the book, he says, because he needed to face up to his own crazy busy life and the choices he made (and continues to make) that led him there. I can relate; I’m sure you can, too. We all take a perverse pride in being crazy busy.

Two friends of mine came to mind over and over as I read this book. They have both come face to face with their own crazy busy lives. One left the southern California lifestyle behind and moved to a rural part of the country where he could live with his family without succumbing to the crazy busy culture. The other is still right in the middle of it, recently lamenting to me that his son is desperate for his attention. I tried to put myself in their shoes as I read Crazy Busy. How would they benefit from it?

DeYoung begins by summarizing a number of helpful books and studies to give us a “state of the union” address (i.e., we’re all crazy busy!). Then, he turns to a series of diagnostic statements to prove that we are too busy. These chapters, which make up the bulk of the book, are uneven. Some of them contain real gems of insight, especially #4 (“Stop Freaking Out About Your Kids”) and #5 (“You are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul”), but as a whole I think these chapters miss the real problem that a book like Crazy Busy should address.

No one I know is blind to our busyness. We don’t need to be convinced that we are too busy. We know that our choices are robbing us of our health and spiritual vitality. For most of us, our problem is that we can’t see the way forward to a better future. Again, I go back to my two friends: both of them have seen the light. For the first friend, the light was the dawn of a new day and a new way to live, a series of choices (radical though they seemed at the time to his short-sighted friends) that he and his wife made to live less busy lives. For the other friend, the light is an oncoming train. He knows he is in a world of hurt, but can’t seem to make the changes necessary to save his own health and to live in a way that is a true benefit to his family.

DeYoung recognizes that a book, even as small as this one, can quickly become overwhelming to people who are already busy: one more book to read, one more task to mark off, one more thing to do. He concludes his book by identifying the one thing we must do. DeYoung admits that it won’t necessarily solve the problem of busyness, but he promises that the one thing we must do will bring us closer to Jesus. I want to believe him because I agree with DeYoung that the real problem with busyness is our tendency to hide from Jesus in our busyness or substitute our busyness for Jesus. So, what’s the one thing we must do? Personal daily devotions.

DeYoung anticipates a negative reaction to his advice. He admits that it is “a dangerous and potentially debilitating move” to suggest a quiet time as the one thing that we must do to fight against crazy busy lives. My concern, however, isn’t the legalism that DeYoung fears. It is instead, the easy retreat to individualism, which is at the heart of our crazy busy problem and also shows up in a surprising way in Crazy Busy. For instance, in chapter 8, DeYoung explains the benefit of a Sabbath rest without once talking about the means of grace. His primary emphasis is personal relaxation, sleep, and a day off from the grind. But that individualistic viewpoint actually serves to fuel our hyper-active lives, when the Sabbath was meant to remind us that we don’t exist for ourselves, at all!

As wonderful and important as daily reading and prayer are, the author’s advice sounds dangerously close to the stereotypical “take two verses and call me in the morning” pietism that, in our circles, is a carrier of the kind of hyper-individualism that leads to the very real problems that Crazy Busy identifies.

Our church culture’s emphasis on the personal over the corporate is a reflection of the broader cultural sickness that has made us all crazy busy. We have forgotten that the biblical priorities are communal, not personal. When we cease to think in communal terms, we become trapped by personal ambition and guilt.

DeYoung’s book is helpful in many ways, but his proscription falls short. He returns to old tropes that I fear are part and parcel of the mess we’re in. Watching my own life get crazier and busier and watching the lives of family, friends, and congregants follow the same trajectory, I am afraid that what is needed is a much crazier book than DeYoung has given us—a book that calls on God’s people to make counter-cultural decisions to live their lives in ways that are distinctively different than their neighbors. If our children see us bow in personal prayer each morning but otherwise ascribe to the world’s standards of what life should look like, we will never stop being crazy busy. We will only sanctify it in our children’s eyes and they will follow our steps into their own crazy busy future.

—Eric Landry is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church

WHI-1159 | Is Christianity the Only True Religion?

Is it true that all the religions of the world are simply different paths to God, or is Jesus the only way? If Christianity is the only true religion, does this mean that other religions are completely false? What about those who have never heard about Jesus? Joining us to discuss some of these questions is Dr. John Stackhouse, Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, BC. (originally aired June 21, 2009).

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Thank You For Your Support

Please consider a donation of $100 before June 30th to help us begin the next fiscal year with the resources we need to continue to call the church back to the rich resources of the Reformation.

To make a donation, or for more information, please visit whitehorseinn.org/donate2013.

WHI-1158 | Foolishness to Greeks

In this special address recorded before a live audience in Seattle, we discuss Paul’s famous speech at Mars Hill in the city of Athens recorded in Acts 17. How did Paul make his case for Christ before this largely Gentile audience? What lessons can we learn about preaching and evangelism in our own day? That’s what’s on tap for this edition of White Horse Inn!

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What The Gospel Is & Why We Should Believe It, Part 7

Throughout this blog series I have been arguing that Paul clearly identifies the essence of the Christian gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. But his discussion of what the gospel entails is presented in a summary form only and is certainly not exhaustive. For example, though he writes elsewhere about propitiation (Rom 3:25), imputed righteousness (Rom 5:17), or our adoption as sons (Eph 1:5), in this passage Paul simply sums up this gospel by pointing to Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection from the dead. All that happened to Jesus, he argued, was both “according to the Scriptures” and verified by eyewitnesses.

I have also argued that Paul’s words in verses 3 through 7 appear to be in the structure of an early Christian mnemonic device, or creed. I believe this is what he had received (15:3) from the early Christian community in Jerusalem and was bringing to the remembrance of the Corinthian church.

Some get confused at this point when comparing this passage to Gal 1:12. In that passage, Paul says he received the gospel not from any man but directly “through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is totally consistent with the account of his conversion that we discover in Acts 9.

But here in 1 Cor. 15, he is not merely passing on the content of the Christian gospel. Instead, he is passing on a particular construction of it in the form of an early Christian creed that likely dates back to sometime within the first decade after Christ’s crucifixion. In other words, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection was not one that evolved later. This was the confession of the earliest Christians.

So now let’s conclude our reading of this section from 1 Corinthians. Paul, the chief of sinners, the most hostile of the hostile eyewitnesses, goes on to say:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

That last line is especially significant when paired with the observation from De Tocqueville that we quoted in the first blog post. He had observed that,

Preachers in America are forever pointing out how religious beliefs favor freedom and public order, and it is often difficult to be sure when listening to them whether the main object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the next world or prosperity in this.

Unfortunately what was true in 1840 has only gotten worse in our generation. Visit an average congregation, regardless of the denomination, and you’re likely to hear sermons about life in this world and how Jesus will help you live more abundantly here and now.

I’ve been arguing in these posts that the gospel is not ultimately about us or how we can improve this world or ourselves. Rather, it’s about Christ. And it’s not merely about Christ in general or what he can do for us in the here and now. Rather it is about what he did during a particular time when Tiberius was reigning as Caesar and Pontius Pilate was the procurator of Judea. It’s about Christ’s death for sin and his resurrection on the third day, testified by the prophets before it happened, witnessed by the apostles when it happened, and richly explained by them after it happened. We’re dealing with real time and space events that are first and foremost to be understood as true rather than helpful, useful, or life changing. This gospel may have the effect of changing a person’s life, but that is to be understood as a fruit of the gospel and not the thing itself.

These days we’ve turned things around. We don’t talk about the truth of the gospel anymore, just its therapeutic value, what it can do for our finances, how it can repair our broken relationships, how it solves loneliness, etc. As we go around repeating these kinds of things, many people will respond, “Oh that’s great for you, I’m glad that you found something that works.” Others say, “I’m doing just fine with my finances and relationships, thank you,” or “What worked for me was reading Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. That book changed my life!”

But a truth claim is something different. If Jesus really rose again from the dead then, like all historical facts, this would be true not merely for me but for everyone. And if it’s true for everyone, we would all do well to pay attention to what Jesus says about himself and the claims he makes about where history is headed, about our true nature, and about our need for redemption.

Finally, we end with the beginning. This gospel is the announcement concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul says in the first two verses of 1 Corinthians 15 that it is the gospel “in which you stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached…” In other words, this isn’t merely an announcement of a particular set of facts, but is something of eternal significance for us all. We are not made right before a holy God by the things we do. However, we can be saved by attending to these particular words about a particular event that took place some two thousand years ago having to do with a certain Jewish rabbi who got himself crucified and didn’t stay dead.

This is why we put such an important emphasis on preaching and proclamation. The gospel saves, not going to church, or concern for the poor, or spiritual journaling, or the pursuit of social justice, or simply trying to be a nice and decent person in a fallen world. As Paul says in Romans 4:25, “Christ was raised for our justification.” We are declared righteous based on the events of his life, not our own. And if clinging to this gospel is what saves, then preaching this gospel is the main business of Christian ministers in Christian churches throughout the world until he comes.

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