Monthly Archives: June 2018


For NT believers there’s no doubt whatever that without Jesus, His person and work, Sin isn’t dealt with. Believers don’t need to prove again and again what no believer in 2,000 years has doubted or would dream of doubting.
Precisely how Christ “deals with” Sin is still disputed though it’s clear that the evangelical stream currently prefers the penal substitution view which I think is bad doctrine that requires either universalism or limited atonement as in Augustinian Calvinism. (I’ve worked with that some in The Dragon Slayer.) Setting aside atonement theory what’s indisputable for people like us is this: Christ dealt with Sin or it wasn’t dealt with. The Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ is/are the objective realities the NT says are indispensable for reconciliation and so deal with Sin that it is not an indestructible enemy of sinners—Christ conquered it so that sinners can conquer it also [John 12:41;16.33; 1 John 5:4-5]. How He “conquered” it is complex and numerous theories are offered.

This focus on God in Christ is the “objective” side of reconciliation with God. Humanity didn’t provide that—God provided that independent of the human family. [That statement needs developed to be made clear since Jesus didn’t float down out of heaven but was born of a woman who was a child of Adam and Jesus is himself listed as a child of Adam in Luke 3.] All that is true, but it’s only on side of the “reconciliation” story. 4. 2 Corinthians 5:18 insists that “all things” are of God (referencing the things just said) but 5.20 calls (using an aorist imperative) for humans to “be reconciled” to God. “Be you reconciled to God!” It’s clear that while human response isn’t what initiates or is the ground on which humans are reconciled to God, human response is required. The Godward side of the Story is that God does not reckon human sins against them (5.19), what should have kept humans and God alienated from one another is the human record of sinful conduct that rose out of sinful hearts. The man-ward side of the Story is what is rarely dealt with in evangelical teaching/preaching. There is still the fevered fear of “legalism” or “self-salvation”—a fear inherited from Augustine, systematized in Calvinism and Lutheranism.
All talk of earning a right relationship with God is nonsense. A saving relationship with God begins in grace, is sustained by grace and ends with grace! Paul knows that no one earns anything (Titus 3.5 is enough) but the same one who wrote Titus 3.5 wrote 2 Corinthians 5.20. The entire story of reconciliation (in any situation, human or divine) must include the attitude of both parties toward the other. There cannot be “reconciliation” while one chooses and lives out hostility toward the other. To do that is to remain alienated. There is no such thing as “being at one” when in fact one chooses not to be at one. This realignment of the heart with God is the subjective side of “reconciliation/atonement”.
God’s work of reconciliation/atonement is not done when Christ has done what He has done in His earthly ministry—He has yet to overcome the sinner’s chosen alienation. That’s where gospeling enters, that’s where the Father & Son, in and through the Spirit, brings the truth that woos and leads sinners to a transformed heart (2 Corinthian 5.19-20; John 6:63; 16:13-15; Romans 2:4; Phil 1.29; Acts 16:14; 18:27 and elsewhere).
With this work—God’s continued work of reconciling—the sinner now rejects his sin, his choice of alienation, he wants to be God’s friend and servant. He renounces his past sin and renounces the sinful bent that remains a part of him due to the years of alienation and he continues (by God’s help) to “put off” the various behaviors that were part of his “old man” status (the “old man” being his relationship to and inclusion in the first Adam—see Romans 5:12–6:6). He is not now the same person he was before God brought him to a repentant faith. Now in faith he rejects all that the “old man” (first Adam) stands for and embraces all that the “last Adam” is and stands for (see 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 45-49 with Romans 5.14, last phrase and 7:4-6). At no point is the sinner coerced, he is not forced to believe, his free-will capacity has not been obliterated but the truth of God so works that he is persuaded and shaped that his eyes and heart are opened by the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 2.37; 16:13-15; Romans 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). This is the era, the dispensation of the Spirit in and by whom the glorified and exalted Lord Jesus makes Himself present to the world having completed in His earthly ministry, experience and glorification all that needed to be done then (John 14:16-18, 23; 16:12-15; Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 16:5-11).
This shouldn’t lead to an overstress on “doing” or “the pursuit of moral excellence” (though we were created for good works—Ephesians 2.10; 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:24; Titus 3:4-8). We must take into account the truth that God cannot have fellowship with people who choose to be “darkness” (Colossians 1:13, 21; 2 Corinthians 6:14) and who remain therefore in the kingdom of darkness. At the heart of the human response to God—which is generated by God’s saving truth—is faith. Saving faith is both receiving as true what God has revealed concerning himself in Jesus Christ and committing oneself in trusting obedience to that faith. This is what overcomes the world. Faith says of Jesus Christ, “He is right—we are wrong; He is righteous—we are unrighteous; He is the truth—we are lies……” That believing/trusting response (which is the gift of God as well as a free human response) takes us into and is the way of life in the “new world” (new creation). In and through Him we died to the “old world” and enter that new world; we die to “the old man” and are resurrected in the “new man” (Colossian 2:12; Ephesians 2:5-6).

“Reconciliation” includes the reorientation of a heart with God’s. It includes having the mind of Christ. God’s work of reconciliation is not completed until the sinner (whatever his limitations) takes God’s purpose as his own and that begins in and continues in a denial of the self and the embracing Jesus Christ as our life and identity [(Romans 6:1-6; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-5).


So He knocks on the door where the emperor was staying during his visit to Caesarea. The door opens, the Roman overlord scowls and the visitor asks, “You Tiberius, the Roman emperor?”
“That is who I am,” the Roman says. “And who are you?”
“I’m Jesus of Nazareth.”
“And what is your business here?”
“I came to tell you that I have come to dismantle your empire—to bring it down in ruins.”
“Talk like that will have you hanging on a tree!” said the most powerful man n the planet.
Over his shoulder as he walked away the young Jesus said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“You say that now,” the emperor barked after Him, “but when we hang you up on that tree that’ll be the end of you.”
Still over his shoulder the young Jewish prince shouted back, “Good luck with that! When I’m lifted up I will draw multiplied millions of people to me and into service in My kingdom while yours is in ruins.”
“Talkers like you, poor little man, we’ve heard hundreds of you. Here today, gone tomorrow. Before long they’ll have forgotten your very name.”
“You wish,” comes the reply, now from a distance and fading, “Millions will be singing, writing, speaking, praying and glorying in My name when you and your empire will be remembered only by its ruins and visited by tourists. I have seen empires like yours. Here today and gone tomorrow.”
(This piece I’ve borrowed from the upcoming The Irish Papers.)

Tiberius     Tourists     The Irish Papers


A Department of Water Resources representative stops at a Texas ranch and talks with an old rancher. He tells the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for your water allocation.” The old man was busy, looks up and says, “Okay, but stay out of that field over there.”
The rep isn’t used to being told what he can’t do, flashes his credentials and says, “Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me. See this card? This card means I am allowed to go wherever I wish on any agricultural land. No questions asked or answered. Have I made myself clear?”
The old rancher nodded, shrugged and goes about his chores. Before long he hears loud screams and spies the Water Rep running for his life and close behind is the rancher’s bull. The bull’s gaining with every step.
The Rep’s wide-eyed and terrified and he has reason to be, so the old man downs his tools, runs to the fence and yells at the top of his lungs…..”Your card! Show him your card!”
I suspect this is the kind of thing Paul would say to those church-troublers that marched into Corinth waving their letters of recommendation in the faces of the people everywhere they went (compare 2 Corinthians 3:1). When they came face to face with Jesus Paul might shout: “Your letters; show him your letters of recommendation, your diplomas and your name on the honors list!”
Come to think of it, it won’t matter much what we wave in front of us when we come to meet God; not bank-balance, proof of popularity, size of our congregation, list of books written, conferences headlined, the famous names we can drop, the movies we starred in, the records we held—these aren’t the “Open Sesame” into the blessed presence of God. It won’t help a lot either to give a long list of venerable names who hold or held our views—that doesn’t make them wholesome or true. Well, not unless they’re venerable names like Paul.
But Paul is not as fashionable these days as he once was. It’s true, of course, he wasn’t fashionable with everyone back then but check who they were that said he was “wrong!” In 2 Corinthians 11:4-6 he says something like, “You dismiss me when I teach. But let someone else come along bringing a different gospel or a different spirit and you’ll pay attention to him. Well, I may not have the degrees or the flamboyance or charisma or learning of these academics but I know what I know and I know you should know that because I’ve been around you long enough for you to know it. These ‘newcomers’. I’m not one of these. They’ll be gone soon and millions will be reading for endless years to come what God has given to me.”
We truly need to reflect thoughtfully on this entire section–2 Corinthians 11–13. Just read it through at one sitting. Listen to this man and note that he is responding to people who not only doubt his truthfulness but his teaching also. Read all of it and note 13:3-5 where they doubt him and his right to teaching and the truthfulness of what he tauight. “You seek proof of Christ speaking in me? Well, check yourself! If you are in Christ–how did you get there? You, novices that you are, in your wisdom, wisdom you learned from these newcomers, you doubt me and tell me I’m ‘wrong’? Remember how you came to know Him. But on the other hand, if you feel smart enough, certainly smart enough to tell me I’m ‘wrong’ about major doctrines, maybe you ought to doubt the gospel I taught you to bring you into the Lord Jesus.” (You can rest assured that when one of the university professors is being questioned for accuracy/believability by some student that he’ll quickly call on the Paul he trenchantly said was “wrong!”. But the student wouldn’t have Paul as the source of truth and authority—he would have his professor as source; a professor who doesn’t mind claiming he could have taught Paul a thing or two.)

On one occasion Paul strode into Jerusalem with an uncircumcised young Christian called Titus. He called out the leadership there that was saying if people wanted to be blessed in Jesus the Messiah that they would have to become Torah-observant and circumcised into the Judaic faith. That was heresy! (See Acts 15 and Galatians 2—3.) Paul said he wouldn’t give an inch to anybody, pillars of the Church or not! And when later, in Antioch, one of those pillars engaged in hypocrisy regarding the truth of the Gospel and Paul went after him (yes, and his close companion, Barnabas too). “I don’t care who they are,” he said, “if they undermine the truth of the Gospel I’m coming after them.” (Galatians 2:5-6, 11-14) This is the man who bent over backwards, becoming all things to all men that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). “I don’t ask their names,” he would say. “I don’t ask where they were schooled or the position they hold or the company they keep. I listen to them teach and preach. If it’s Gospel and truth I’m happy. I don’t even care if they’re gospeling to glorify themselves or to outshine someone else—just so long as they’re gospeling!“ (See Philippians 1:14-18.) All this from “Mr Flexible!” But not when it came to what undermined the Word and Will of God and threatened the Gospel.
It won’t help, if we had and could recite the correct answers to all the theological questions if uncaringly we overwhelm with our new wisdom the people God gave into our care.
Recklessly, because we have become wise we pour out our newly–found wisdom and leave the the “unlearned” looking at one another—confused, wondering and wandering. Ezekiel 34:1-10 is a sobering section with a sobering truth that is as true today as it was when Babylon was hammering down the walls of Jerusalem all those centuries ago.


I’m bracketing out all critical questions and saying that Paul wrote the Ephesian letter and that he wrote it to the predominately non-Jewish Ephesian church of Acts 19. Paul never apologizes for agreeing with Jesus and Peter in saying the gospel of God was to the Jew first (Romans 1:1-4, 16; 11:16-24; 15:27; Acts 13:46-47 and elsewhere). In Ephesians he has particularly non-Jews in mind (1:12-13; 2:6-19, with the above texts) who were invited into the new covenant made with Israel (Hebrews 8:6-9 and then 2 Corinthians 3 with the “Jews first” texts above and Ephesians 3:1-7). With that behind us we have Ephesians 2:12 where Paul speaks to Gentile Christians in their pre-Christian state.
“Atheoi”. That’s what he called them. A plural noun, atheists! To citizens of Ephesus of all places; people whose world was permeated by magic and gods of all kinds; a city that boasted as being the home of the famous temple of Diana (Artemis), the goddess known throughout the world. Atheists? A people for whom everything was a god; the ground they walked on, the water they drank, the trees and crops, the sun, moon, stars, the very sky itself, animals and even humans; anything that walked or crawled or did nothing—all gods! And he calls them atheists.
It was commonplace in the world of the psalmists and prophets to hear the nations mock them and protest, wanting to know, “Where is your god?” (Psalm 42:3; 79:10; 115:2-3.) With Israel under someone’s heel or experiencing calamity the jeer went up. There wasn’t an idol in sight when Israel honored GOD. For the nations that worshiped on any hill or by any river; for those who worshiped anything that was necessary to keep human existence in order and catered for and with shrines and idols everywhere, it was Israel that earned the name atheists and it was commonly used of Christians who “emptied the universe” of its gods—these were the atheists!
What nerve this Jew had! Poor fool! Poor deluded fool! Yesssssss, with one phrase, with a single phrase, he obliterated its gods! Still, he speaks of the existential reality that people worship their own creation and says (1 Corinthians 8:5-6), “Even if there are gods many and lords many…to us there is one GOD…and one LORD.”

I understand that I’m stretching the word “worship” and its characteristic use but to put one’s entire trust in the power to order the world and life is close enough to “worship”. If we can use the word to speak of “worshiping” our beloved ones who make life fully livable it’s probably all right to use it of our “worshiping” ourselves or the elements around us.
Einstein was a pantheist who used the word “God” to speak of the harmony and consistency of the laws of physics. Michio Kaku the noted cosmologist and physicist goes in the same direction. Steven Weinberg, maybe the preeminent and leading prize-winning physicist in the world, shared the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work on elementary particles. He’s an outright atheist and critiques his scientific colleagues who use the word “God”—he called it “religious coloration.” Why don’t his colleagues, he would want to know, why don’t they just own up to their atheism. He has a point! That fine sort of a person I couldn’t help admiring, Carl Sagan, astronomer, wanted to know why we need a God when we can provide for ourselves all that we need? Poor thing. His world was huge but he didn’t know how wondrous humans are and what our “needs” are that need to be filled. He wouldn’t have seen the movie E.T. and the long bulbous finger pointing into the sky and wistfully moaning, “Home!”
In any case, Kaku, Einstein and Sagan looked mainly to the vast dimensions of the still (?) expanding universe and came back without God. Weinberg and his colleagues focused on the tiniest area of the universe, we might say, the heart and center of it. They came back saying, there is no God! Tiny or colossal, not only did they come back with no God, they came back with a mindless, thoughtless, feelingless and blind “thing”. They never came across a baby laughing up at its mother, they never heard a galaxy weep or shout encouragement to a lovely deed well done, they came back with no report of a quasar protesting injustice, not in all the innumerable and endless corridors of unimaginable darkness did they find a door to welcome wanderers and they never heard a black hole that whispered forgiveness to profound regret and repentance. That you only see or hear on this, “the visited planet.”
One day, it’s been imagined, all the quasars, black holes, Giant Reds, spiral galaxies and everything else in the heavens will file past the little planet earth and nod their respect to this smaller than miniscule home of ours.
BUT the Christian finds in Luke 10:21 the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, throwing back his head and joyfully shouting skyward, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…” He stamped the entire universe with the name FATHER! No wonder Weinberg once confessed that he was sad that for him the heaven no longer declared the glory of GOD. Wolsley Teller, atheist, a long time ago said when we look at the heavens the only thing we see is a skull, a death’s head. Creation, he said, either cares for our coming or our going. He was looking at the right thing in the wrong way Jesus looked at it and saw a FATHER’S work.

Atheists, Einstein, Weinberg. The visited planet, E.T.