Monthly Archives: October 2007

How to condemn in a political society (or, how to summon the mob)

If you want to condemn the innocent, it is extremely important that you give no appearance of impartiality, objectivity, or any recognition that you have obligations of fairness toward those you wish to destroy.

You might think that one destroys the innocent by carefully manufacturing false evidence or carefully rigging false testimony. But the Gospels and Acts show us that the innocent can be destroyed quite easily even when false witnesses are too lazy to make sure their stories agree.

More importantly, any careful attempt to produce an ironclad case appeals to others to be careful in examining the evidence and judicious in their decision-making. This is entirely counterproductive even if you could make an ironclad case.

No, you will be far more successful if you treat the accused with contempt, openly spread gossip, and make statements about his statements and his defenders which obviously begs the question.

You see, the only way to communicate the seriousness of the issue, is to show by your deeds that it is so serious that normal rules against hearsay and gossip simply don’t apply.  In fact, you will do well to simply invent a new means of gaining a verdict outside of the regular judicial process.  I don’t mean you should do this secretly; it must be done openly and shamelessly to work.

(In fact, when your victims don’t submit to your completely novel procedures, you should castigate them for blowing off proper judicial authority.  Again, you simply cannot be too obvious if you want to really succeed in your endeavors.)

You see, if you follow any normal ethical procedure you will attract the attention of those who care about things like a “fair trial” and what not.  These people are not going to be helpful to your cause.  But if you want to arouse a lynch mob, you have to hold up what will bring them to you hungering for blood.  And that means every sign of fairness is a detriment to your cause.  Every precedent you honor, every time you put together a tribunal that is not stacked, every time you refuse to justify your disregard for justice by openly assuming the guilt before the investigation, you are failing to call your sheep with a clear voice.

Do it right, and you will get troops that would make Osama Bin Laden jealous.

Sermon Notes from Sunday night

Here is what I preached from at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church. Obviously, since we had already celebrated the Lord’s Supper that morning, I didn’t mention it in the sermon, though my notes presuppose that the congregation is about to partake. Hopefully the audio will be up soon because I also added some explanations about how the Gospel exposes sin. I also pointed out that the threats of the law were not against sin in general, but against unbelief: rejecting the true god and turning to false gods. The threats “of the Law” against abandoning the Faith are still present in the NT.

THE GRACE OF THE LAW: Exodus 20.1-3

I had a dream last night. It was more than a dream, actually: it was the sudden recollection of a distant and repressed memory from my infancy. Actually, it was from even before my infancy. Even before I was born somehow my father and I communicated with with each other. He offered to make me exist and to love me as his son on the condition that I agreed to love and obey him. After I agreed to meet the conditions of that covenant, then he agreed to conceive me and raise me from then on as his child.

OK, I lied. I didn’t have that dream. And such a dream could never be a repressed memory. It would really be a weird nightmare. Parental love is not based on a contract. It is not based on on some previous agreement. There is no time to make such an agreement. From the moment a person is conceived, that person is in a relationship with his parents. The child may fail to continue in that relationship the right way. But when that happens, it is not because the child failed to enter into a covenant with his parents, but rather because he broke the covenant already established. He is not an autonomous individual. He’s just a runaway.

Likewise, God didn’t create Adam and only then make an arrangement whereby Adam was blessed by God. On the contrary, God’s covenant relationship with Adam existed from the moment Adam first existed. Adam didn’t have to love and obey in order to be God’s son, he had to love and obey God because was God’s son. And he was God’s son because of an act of God’s will, not his own. True, he could respond to God’s love and grace in making and adopting him, but he could never initiate God’s love and grace. God took the initiative.

Now this seems rather obvious, but there is something in human nature which rebels against it. We don’t like to think of ourselves as utterly dependent, and subject to certain moral obligations as an essential part of our identity. We would rather be self-existent autonomous beings under no obligations except those we impose upon ourselves. This desire manifests itself in our in our intellectual life. Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, claimed that each human person pre-existed there own body and life history. Each of us existed as a pure mind with perfect knowledge, so that no experience in this world really taught us anything new or actually changed us. Rather, they simply reminded us of what we ultimately already knew.

This fantasy of autonomy also manifests itself in the way our society does not understand how to explain the rights of a child. Abortion, and all sorts of other evils, comes down to the idea that a person is an autonomous being with no obligations other than the ones he or she voluntarily takes on.

Now what does all this have to do with the Ten Commandments? Quite simply this: Sometimes they have been treated as if they were, at least hypothetically, a way of earning salvation—of initiating a relationship with God. But there is no way that such an interpretation can be made to fit the facts. On the contrary, the first three verses of Exodus 20, in the context of Exodus as a whole, make it clear that the Israelites are not supposed to obey God in order to be saved, but because they are saved.

Just to make my point clear, let me read you again the first three verses of Exodus chapter 20:

THEN God spoke all these words, saying,
You shall have no other gods before Me,
Then I will be the LORD your God,
and I will bring you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery.

With a couple of minor modifications, those are the first three verses of chapter 20 of the Exodus. But the message has now been completely perverted because I switched the order of verses 2 and 3. Instead of having deliverance precede the command, I reversed it and made the command precede the deliverance. But that gives us an entirely different picture. And it is inaccurate. God didn’t hand out the Law in Egypt and tell the Israelites to obey it in order to be delivered from Pharaoh’s kingdom. Exactly the opposite. God first unilaterally saved Israel and then gave Israel the law. The Law is not about initiating or earning a relationship. The Law is about thanking, trusting, and continuing in a relationship which you could never hope to initiate, earn, or in any way, deserve.

You see, our inherent drive to imagine ourselves autonomous gets tangled up with an assumption that people were saved in the Old Testament by their works while in the New Testament we are saved by God’s grace through faith. But that is ridiculous. The Apostle Paul’s argument throughout his letters is that we are saved by faith now because that is the only way anyone was ever saved at any time. Abraham and David were saved by faith. According to the author of Hebrews, Moses was saved by faith. There is nothing new about being saved by grace through faith. There is one way of salvation, one relationship with God, or as theologians like to say, one covenant of grace throught history both before and after Jesus.

Turn with me to Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 15ff, where we hear Moses conclude his farewell sermon to the Israelites:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. “But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Some would read this as if it was all about earning or deserving salvation. Like in my dream where I have a conversation with my father before he conceived me, God is here offering the people of Israel life on the condition of obedience.

But think through what that scenario would mean. The Israelites are listening to Moses. There hearts are pumping blood to their ears and brains so that they can hear and understand him. Their lungs are breathing oxygen so that their blood has something to give to their brains and ears. They have already been given life. They are not in some sort of third status that is neither life nor death because there is no third alternative. They are being told to keep choosing life as people who have already been given life. In fact, Paul sites this passage from Deuteronomy in Romans 10 as a reference to the gospel. Moses is giving the people the gospel.

You see the message of the Ten Commandments is NOT, “do this to earn my love.” The prologue makes it very clear. The message of the Ten Commandments is, I am God. I have saved you. Be loyal to me.

Consider something else Moses said in Deuteronomy:

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them. Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. And the LORD will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you. And you shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you (7.7-16)

I am God. I have saved you. Be loyal to me. That’s the message of the Ten Commandments. That’s the message of Deuteronomy 7.6-16. Now let’s consider something from a gospel:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

Whether it’s Moses or Jesus, the message is the same. I am God. I have saved you. Be loyal to me. And I should point out, the same basic message was given to Adam and Eve. They hadn’t sinned so they didn’t need to be saved in that sense. But still, the message had the same structure. I am God. I have created you and exalted you over all things. Be loyal to me. Granted, for Adam and Eve, loyalty entailed perfect obedience as well as faith, but that was because they were sinless. If they remained in covenant they would continue to not sin. God’s covenant with them was a relationship of love unilaterally initiated by God. It was not a labor contract.

Likewise, the Ten Commandments were never given, even hypothetically, as a way for men and women to earn or merit eternal life. They were given as a means to grow in grace and faith. They were given to sinners whom God had freely chosen to forgive and adopt as his own children.

There are passages in Paul which say pretty negative things about the Law. But Paul is replying, in these passages, to people who think the Mosaic Law is complete apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. Yes, without Christ the Law can only condemn. Yes, without Christ, one must change the Law beyond recognition and make it into either a way of earning salvation or a reason for boasting in one’s national heritage. But that is not what the Law was intended for. The Ten Commandments presuppose grace and salvation. Jesus is God. He has chosen us and delivered us. We must be loyal to him.

Bear in mind it is not only the Old Testament Law which accuses and condemns. Some theologians historically, have made a big deal out of the fact that when the Law was given at Sinai, it was given in thunder and lightning and fire so that everyone was fearful. The gospel, they said, contrasts with the Law in that it is all assurance and promise of good will. I think something is missing from this sort of assessment. When the Apostle John saw the risen savior Jesus Christ, he was struck down like a dead man. When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus, he was thrown to the ground and blinded by the blaze of Jesus’ glory. The Mount of Transfiguation is quite comparable to Mount Sinai.

The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that his preaching of the gospel is the

fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.

And consider Hebrews 10.28-29

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

So, contrary to many popular interpretations floating around today, in the presence of unbelief, the gospel is even more condemning than the Old Testament law. Why? Because the grace of God is revealed even more clearly. It’s true that God is holy. It’s true that every sin deserves his wrath. But that’s barely half the story. God isn’t just holy, he is loving, patient, and forgiving. And in the face of that loving, patient, and forgiving God, men and women continue in unbelief and rebellion. Like Eve we convince ourselves that God’s commands are simply a way he’s keeping us down. That’s what condemns us all the more. And that’s why the Gospel can be even more condemning than anything written in the Old Testament.

If we truly believe that God loves us then the prospect of obeying the commands should not seem burdensome. Think of an awkward and mediocre-looking young man at a dance. And a beautiful woman grabs his hand and says, “Dance with me!” That’s what it should feel like to know that God, the lover of your soul, wants to teach you the steps for walking with him.

Jesus is God. Jesus has saved us. Let us be loyal to him. Let us trust him. The Ten Commandments are an important summary statement of how to do them. And they presuppose grace. We are to obey God not in order to become his children, but because he has made us his children. After all, he is about to feed us at his table, just like any loving parent does for his children. The Ten Commandments aren’t things we do to come to the Lord’s Supper. No, we participate in the Lord’s Supper in order to obey the Ten Commandments. God nourishes us that we might serve him.

May God make us truly grateful then, that in his power we might live according to his word.

J. Gresham Machen on the archaic world

The real indictment against the modern world is that by the modern world human liberty is being destroyed. At that point I know many modern men could only with difficulty repress a smile. The word liberty has today a very archaic sound; it suggests G.A. Henty, flag waving, the boys of ’76, and the like. Twentieth-century intellectuals, it is thought, have long ago outgrown all such childishness as that. So the modern historians are spelling “liberty,” when they are obliged to use the ridiculous word, in quotation marks: no principle, they are telling us, was involved, for example, in the American Revolution; economic causes alone produced that struggle; and Patrick Henry was engaging in cheap melodrama when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Here is my source. Machen was the leader of the orthodox party against the liberal Presbyterian Church that was trying so hard to take over Princeton Seminary. The context of his comments was opposing the establishment of a federal Department of Education in 1929. Here are some other things he said in that speech:

Liberty, in present day education, is regarded as entirely out of date; and standardization has taken its place. If, it is said, we allow all sorts of queer private schools and church schools to confuse the minds of youth, what will become of the welfare of the state? How can we have a unified nation without a standardized school?

The bill establishing a Federal Department of Education, despite the powerful lobby working in behalf of it, has not yet become a law, but I fear that these setbacks to the attack upon liberty, unless the underlying temper of the people changes, are but temporary, and that the process of standardization and centralization will go ruthlessly on.

From such a slavery, which is already stalking through the entire earth today, in the particular form of the materialistic paternalism of the modern state, from such a world of unrelieved drabness, we seek escape in the high adventure of the Christian religion. There and there only, we think, is liberty to be found.”

Continue reading

What are we really talking about?

I went to Auburn Avenue to lecture on Church, Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and Way of Salvation/Discipleship.

But the discussion afterwards focused on Theology Proper and Incarnation. I didn’t plan that but it didn’t seem like a stretch at all. As I recall the following came up at some point or another:

  • Is God emotional?
  • Should we take God at his word that his feelings even when these aren’t reducible to categories like “the elect”?
  • Is the “free offer” of the Gospel important–that is, the sincere offer made to all apart from considerations as to what God has fore-ordained about them?
  • Is humility an essential attribute of God?
  • Does the incarnation reveal God or obscure him at points?
  • Why was Gordon Clark considered within the pale when he asked who said, “I thirst” and denied that God thirsted?
  • To what extent have we been taught that the “economic Trinity” is a false revelation that we must disregard to know the true God?

Reformation Day Sermon at Auburn Avenue PCA

Here are my notes for the sermon I preached yesterday morning at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church. (Full disclosure: preached this originally around Christmas 1999; can’t remember if I’ve re-used it before now.)

When the audio is made available on the web I will link it.

WHY FAITH? THE GIFT OF THE NEW CREATION: Luke 1.26-38; Romans 4.16-25

What is the meaning of the virgin birth?

Perhaps the most popular answer to that question is that it is necessary to believe in the virgin birth in order to defend and affirm the deity of Christ. Jesus is both God and man. If Jesus had a human father, then that would mean that he was only human.

But the fact is that Jesus could have united himself to a human nature formed in the normal way just as easily as a human nature formed from only his mother. The full humanity and deity of Jesus did not require that he not have a human father.

(Now, there is a rather obtuse but important theological point which is easier to defend because of the virgin birth. It is easier to defend orthodoxy against Nestorianism. Nestorius claimed that in the savior there were two distinct persons who worked together, the human person Christ and the divine person God. So it is alright to call Mary the Christotokos, but not the Theotokos. We can call her the bearer of Christ, but not the bearer of God. There were two separate persons involved and Mary was the mother to only one of them, the human one. Now, if Jesus was produced by both a man and a woman, this heresy would have been much harder to refute, since one could argue that a human person is the inevitable result of human procreation. But because of the virgin birth, we have additional reason to assert that there was one and only one person involved in Jesus, the person of the eternal Son of God united to a human nature so that the one eternal person was both human and divine. However, as I said, this is a rather obtuse point.)

Another explanation assigned to the virgin birth is the sinlessness of Christ. Christ didn’t have a human father because a human father would have contaminated him with original sin. The problem with this idea is that women are sinful too. The virgin birth has nothing to do with Christ’s sinlessness. In any case, as soon as we invent human cloning and find that the offspring of women are just as sinful as those conceived in the normal way, we will have empirical counter-evidence for this possibility.

One last explanation that I will mention is that the sinlessness of Christ requires a virgin birth because sexual activity involves lust, in therefore inherently sinful, and thus contaminates the offspring with original sin. There are several problems with this. First of all, sex between a husband and wife does not involve lust. Lust is an unlawful desire and there is nothing unlawful about desiring one’s spouse. Second of all, the Bible nowhere teaches that there is some sin in the sex act which makes the offspring sinful. Rather, the Bible teaches that we are sinners because we come from sinful people. Finally, there are people who have been conceived through in vitro fertilization and they are just as sinful as the rest of us.

So neither Christ’s deity, nor his sinlessness, require a virgin birth. Why, then, was Jesus born to a virgin?

It was a sign miracle. A sign of what? We’re given a clue in Luke 1.35:

The angel answered and said to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

Now, this may sound like the virgin birth is tied to Christ’s deity, but I think there is something else in view of that phrase in Luke’s Gospel. If we flip over a couple of chapters to chapter 3, verse 22, we read that when Jesus was baptized,

a voice came out of heaven: You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.

And immediately then, in verses 23 through 36, Luke launches into a genealogy of Jesus, which ends with Adam and calls Adam “the son of God.” Being the son of God means being a new Adam, a second creation.

JUST TO MAKE SURE you all know that my theology is orthodox, let me show you how Luke reveals the deity of Christ in what he tells us about his birth. We see it in the song of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. In Luke 1.76, we read from his prophetic song to God regarding the infant John, where he says.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
“For you will go on before the LORD to prepare his ways.”

Zacharias is quoting from Malachi 3.1, which speaks of an angel going before the Lord God. So according to Zacharias, John is going to prepare the way for God himself to visit Israel. Yet it is patently obvious that John is intended to prepare the way for Jesus. Elizabeth, remember, calls Mary “the mother of my Lord.” Everyone involved knows that John was born to be the forerunner of Jesus. Yet somehow he is, at the same time, the forerunner of God.

Preparing the way for Jesus means preparing the way for God. In Luke, as we have seen in First Corinthians, we find the most distinctive Christian messages precisely at the places were it is most obviously Jewish. The deity of Christ is affirmed through the use of Old Testament prophecy.

BUT, IF SON OF God is a term in Luke used not to designate the deity of Jesus but his status as a second Adam, then the virgin birth makes perfect sense. As in the case of Adam, God formed Jesus in a unique and different way—by a direct act, if you will. Jesus is shown, in the virgin birth, to be something new. He is not simply the product of the past, but is a genuine second creation, a new beginning.

In such a case, then, we’re in a position to think about the meaning of the virgin birth. The meaning of Christmas as a whole would indeed include reflection on the incarnation–on God with us in the person of Jesus, even the infant Jesus. But by singling out the virgin birth I think we have a rather precise target to aim for. Listen again to what the angel says in Luke 1:

The angel answered and said to her: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.

God has the power. He can do the impossible. He can make all things new. He can save us.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written: A father of many nations have I made you.) In the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

God has the power. He can do the impossible. He can make all things new. He can save us. For this reason it is by faith.

FOR THIS REASON IT is by faith. Deliverance from death and damnation is given to those who believe. Why? Because that is the only appropriate marker for those who are saved utterly and entirely by God’s gracious gift. Ultimately, God does not save those marked out by good works, or by circumcision, or by baptism, or by regular church attendance, or by monogamy, or by any other way of life. If those things have any part to play whatever, it is only because they demonstrate or reinforce faith. And, of course, it should go without saying that anyone who thinks anything they do can actually earn or merit from God their deliverance from sin and death is suffering a demonic delusion.

You see, just like Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias could do nothing to produce a child, so none of us could do nothing to save ourselves. Just as Mary could not produce a son as a virgin, neither can we escape the curse unless God sovereignly delivers us from it by a mighty act of his power. Like a barren women weeping for the son that she will never have, we are in a hopeless position unless God works on our behalf—unless he chooses to save us.

Jesus taught, as recorded in John 3.6:

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Mary’s flesh was as good as dead. Of herself, her womb could produce no life. Life had to come from God—from God’s Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. Mary is unique, but yet a unique member of a set. She is the climax of a long list of women who found themselves barren. Elizabeth is just one example. Before her, Hannah was barren. But she cried out to God and God heard her cry and gave her new life. She gave birth to Samuel, a judge and deliverer of his people. Before Hannah there was the mother of Samson, who was also barren for some time until the Angel of the Lord appeared to her and promised her a son. Before her was Rebekah and then Sarah the wife of Abraham. All these women and others were barren by nature but given children by the powerful intervention of God.

These children were not a triumph on the part of these women. They were not the result of painstaking toil and effort. No, they were completely and totally gracious gifts with which they had nothing to do. The same is true for Mary. All she could do is receive the news of God’s gift with gladness and trust him to fulfill his promise. Just like Abraham:

In hope against hope he believed; so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken—So shall your descendants be. Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised He was able also to perform.

So Abraham contemplated death all around him, yet he believed God and gave him glory in the confidence that God was both willing and able to bring life from death. Contrast Paul’s description of Abraham with Paul’s description of unbelief in Romans 1.20ff:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

So mankind as a whole looks at nature, at themselves and at the other animals, and at the things around them, and they conclude that they or the animals or inanimate things, must be God. Abraham saw only death around him and gave glory to God. Humanity normally sees the divine all around them and gives glory to these dead things. Of itself, nothing in creation can give life. It si all entirely dependent on God. But man mainly imagines these mere created things to be worthy of divine worship. Abraham contemplated himself as dead but believed in God. People contemplate themselves as alive and believe only in themselves.

LET ME REMIND YOU that this analysis of belief and unbelief goes all the way back to the first sin. In the third chapter of Genesis, we read that the Snake tempted Adam and Eve by claiming that they would not die when they ate from the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Rather, the fruit would automatically, against God’s wishes or plan, make them wise. God had lied to them about death resulting from eating the tree. The tree would impart life and make them like God—make them divine.

There you have it. The first sin is unbelief. God’s promises cannot be trusted. Things work of themselves and give us divine life without God’s help. Those were Satan’s lies. Eve did not contemplate the fruit as dead and yet believe God’s promise and give glory to God. Rather she exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of a piece of fruit. Original sin is unbelief. The act of official disobedience which followed was simply a consequence of a lack of faith.

SO THE OPPOSITE OF original sin is faith. And it is the key to salvation as well. Why? The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 4.16:

in order that it may be in accordance with grace

It is all a gift. It has nothing to do with what we can do. That is what Paul says when he invokes the example of Abraham trusting God to give him a child by Sarah. Sarah’s womb was dead but Abraham trusted God to do what he promised—trusted God to give life to the dead and call into being that which did not exist. Mary does exactly the same thing—trust God to give life to her dead womb and call into being that which did not exist.

So the message of the virgin birth is the message of the Gospel. God can do anything. He can even save sinners. And the only appropriate response to the virgin birth is the same as the only appropriate response to the Gospel: belief; faith; trust. God has promised to provide a complete deliverance for us from all our sins and all the effects of the curse. Indeed, that deliverance has already begun. The conception of Jesus by the power of the Spirit and his subsequent birth was a milestone in that deliverance. The rebirth of Jesus by the power of the Spirit in his resurrection from the dead was the beginning of that deliverance. But both demand a response: believe the good news of God’s deliverance.

If Jesus can give life to an infertile womb, he can give new life to anyone whom he chooses. And whom has he chosen? Whom has he promised to justify?

Those who are good enough? Those who read the Bible to their children five days out of seven? Those who drive within the speed limit? Those who vote for conservative politicians? Those who not only observe the Sabbath but make sure everyone knows they observe the Sabbath?

No. He will vindicate those who believe his promise to save the ungodly. Abraham worshiped other gods. He had no claim on the true God except his need for mercy. But when God promised him new life, he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And when Mary heard the word of the angel promising her life in her womb and a deliverer from her sins, she followed in Abraham’s footsteps. She believed.

Behold the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.

As Elizabeth said to her a little later, in Luke 1.45:

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.

In the Gospel God has spoken a promise of mercy and new life to us. Let’s learn from the virgin birth. Let’s believe that God will fulfill his promise.

The key to freedom

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

How staggeringly more healthy is Paul than many who claim to follow him.  Keeping God’s commandments?  Oh that’s the key to freedom from the anxiety of identity politics.  You can ignore people who tell you what you must be or become.  All you need to do is obey God.  That is good news that Paul wrote to churches so they could stop judging themselves and one another.

You would almost suspect that Paul thought Psalm 119 is inspired or something.

Some wars are better fought by mocking the battlefield

I have no idea what I think of Piper’s opinions in particular, but I do know that the way in which Evangelicals in general try to fix some things in the culture seems prone to create much friction, fission, and confusion.

There are a great many things a Christian man ought to be–more godly, a better family leader, more courageous, more productive, etc. And there are a great many things a Christian woman ought to be. Some of these things cannot be the same. A man can’t be a wife and he shouldn’t try. So there’s the difference.

But setting up templates and saying this is what a man should be strikes me as an attempt to use a mist as a focal point. If you are a man and want to be “Biblically masculine” then here is what you must do.

Trust in Jesus and obey Him. Period.

Did you get that? Good. Now you know everything you need to know. You don’t need to try to develop a universal description of masculinity. You don’t need to use the word “manly” in a certain percent of your conversations. You don’t have to go buy overpriced Davy Crocket outfits for your boys from Baptists “ministries” (you’re free to do so if you want, though I’d look for a secular version that is cheaper). Just trust and obey.

There are as many models of Christian masculinity as there are faithful Christian men. Every man who trusts in Jesus and obeys his commands is doing all he needs to do to “be a man.”

You see, real men don’t waste a minute of their time or any portion of their energy worrying about their manliness.