Prayer and Reverence

Prayer requires reverence.

Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe. “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.” William Temple

In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus teaches his Disciples how to pray, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Let me give some context.

The reason for Jesus’ teaching on prayer was because of inappropriate prayer. Jesus wanted to correct abuses so He provided a model prayer for His disciples. The disciples of Jesus didn’t know how to pray. They say, “Lord, teach us to pray”. The hypocrites that are being referred to would stand up in public, they would draw attention to themselves, and they would seek the attention and praise and adoration of man from their prayers.  An apostate form of Judaism led by religious hypocrites had replaced the true religion, and faith of the Old Testament. Prayer had been reduced to rituals, and vain repetition.  This was all they knew, were recited, heartless, and almost mindless prayers.

And here He shifts and talks about the act of prayer as the Gentiles commonly practiced it.  Jesus denounces the Gentile prayers for their empty phrases and for their empty words, their meaningless words. Hypocrisy was the reason that Jesus’ is teaching on prayer. Jesus denounced the prayers of the “hypocrites”. The text says that these hypocrites pray, “in order to be seen by men”. Hypocrites pray to be noticed and pray to impress. This is the type of prayer that Jesus warns about.

Contrast this with Luke 11, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Notice how Jesus instructs us in the Lords prayer. The very first thing Jesus instructs us to do in Luke 11 is “Father, hallowed be your name” and in Matthew 6 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Prayer is first and foremost recognition of God’s majestic glory and it is an act of submission to that glory. The word “hallow” means sanctify. The Greek word for hallow is Hagiazō. It means to separate or to set apart. Jesus tells us to pray, “Let your name be sanctified.” Sanctify can mean make holy or treat as holy. When God sanctifies us, it means that he makes us holy. But when we sanctify God, it means that we treat him as Holy.

He is to be revered.

 

John Oswalt, a commentator, expands on this, “For Isaiah the announcement of God’s holiness meant that he was in the presence of One distinct from – other than – himself. The function of the threefold holy is the strongest form of the superlative in Hebrew. Its use here indicates that Israel’s God is the most “godly” of all the gods.”

Next in Luke 11 Jesus instructs us to say, “Your kingdom come, and in Matthew 6 he says ‘Your will be done” On earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus commands us to seek God’s kingdom first rather than seeking food and clothing. In other words, we are to seek to let God be the Ruler and King in our lives now. His kingdom is a present reality wherever he rules as King. So when we pray, “Father, let your kingdom come,” we should mean, “Father, rule in my life. Be my king. When we pray to God we have a kingdom mindset but its not always the right kingdom it’s “My kingdom”, “My life”, and “My wants.” Our prayers need to be “upward” before they can be “outward.”

God is vastly beyond us and above us. He is Majestic and transcendent. The glory of God, the hallowing of His great and wondrous name, is the foundation of all prayers. When you and I cherish the desire for God to be glorified, and God to be honored, we will then ask only for those things, which God will see as the means to that end. Hallowing His name means I have set the Lord always before me. Which means: dear God, before I ever talk about my food, my needs, my sin, my life, know this, I desire your glory to be displayed.

When we focus on praise and adoration it reorders our loves. Because of sin the things we love and identify with take supremacy. The supreme source of our enjoyment and delight is God himself. Do we really know that the culmination of all our joy in God will be attained when his name is hallowed in all the earth? Our sinful hearts lead us to be “spiritually self-sufficient.” We are always bent on being in control. Like it says in Romans 1 we still “suppress the truth.” We do not always “honor him as God or give him thanks to him.” We have “foolish hearts.” Tim Keller is spot on when he comments on our condition saying, “The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely.”

Church, love God supremely, reverently, and fearfully. And find that by doing so, we’ll be drawn into a deeper life of prayer.

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Prayer: Starting and Ending With Grace

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 98 asks ‘What is Prayer?’ The answer is simple and profound, ‘Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.’

When we pray do we often think about what prayer requires? Is there a right way to pray? I would like to persuade you that yes there is a right way to pray and that prayer requires three things: grace, fear, and helplessness.

Today I want to write on the first of these, prayer requires grace.

Prayer is “in Jesus’ name,” based on the gospel. When we pray in Jesus’ name it is to know the reason we are being heard is because of the costly grace in which we stand. Because of Christ’s blood bought atoning work who reconciled us to God. There is “Free Forgiveness” at an “Infinite Cost.” Grace is not based on you being perfect. Grace is the unmerited favor of God abounding in each of our lives because Jesus was perfect.

All Christians pray in Jesus’s name, and only in Jesus’ name, in that we approach God under the authority of Jesus and ultimately by his permission and because of his effort on our behalf. We come before God’s throne of grace, not in our own merit, but in the merit of Jesus. Praying in Jesus name is trusting in Christ’s work that he is our salvation. Jesus is the mediator who makes it possible for us to approach God in prayer. A mediator is a “go between” who facilitates peace and reconciliation between two parties. Jesus is our mediator, but He goes the extra step and also advocates for us; that is, He comes in on “our side”, so to speak, and pleads our cause.

We pray “through Him” because His authority enables us to be heard. Because of our sins, we could never approach God. We need a “go-between” to reconcile us to God so we can communicate with Him. Because Jesus died as our sacrifice, He is the only one who can authorize us to approach God in prayer. As Tim Keller says “Our prayers must be in full, grateful awareness that our access to God as Father is a free gift won by the costly sacrifice of Jesus the True Son, and then enacted in us by the Holy Spirit, who helps us know inwardly that we are his children.”

Jesus is the mediator between us and God “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Tim 2:5) Or as Hebrews puts it, But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises...and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 8:26 and 12:24) Because of Jesus we have access to the Father as Paul says because of Christ he reconciled “us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

If we remember the freeness of forgiveness it should shape our confessions and repentance. Grace leads to repentance. Remembering the saving work of Christ and rehearsing the gospel to ourselves can help us from having prayers that are legalistic and self-merited as well as trying to earn Gods mercy. We must have a right attitude towards God and sin itself. We must admit our Sin Like David did in Psalm 51, but also he says “Against you, you only, have I sinned”.

John Owen makes it clear when he says “If we aim to move beyond seeing only the danger of sin its consequences and find ways to convince our hearts of the grievousness of sin how it dishonors and grieves the one to whom we owe everything.”

Prayer must always start and end with grace.

The Person Of Christ

The Person of Christ authored by Donald Macleod is one book in a series of theological textbooks focused on the main themes of Christian theology. 

The Person Of Christ deals with the doctrines of Christology and Soteriology. Donald Macleod (MA, University of Glasgow; DD, Westminster Theological Seminary), is now retired, has served as professor and chair of systematic theology at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh and also as the school’s principal. He pastored at Kilmallie Free Church for six years and also served at Patrick Highland Free Church, a bilingual congregation in Glasgow, Scotland. He is well known as a previous editor of The Monthly Record of the Free Church and as a columnist in the West Highland Free Press and The Observer newspaper. He has written many other books on theology and particularly Christology more recently. Some of his other books include, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement, A Faith to Live By: Understanding Christian Doctrine, and Jesus is Lord: Christology Yesterday and Today.

The Person of Christ with its ten chapters is broken into two parts. Part one “Very God of Very God”, from the Gospels to Nicea, deals with the development of Christology over the years and the many heresies that came along. The first five chapters give a defense of the Deity of Christ, while showing that the Gospels point to the real Jesus. “The Virgin Birth,” “The Pre-existence of Christ,” “Christ, the Son of God,” “The Jesus of History,” and “The Christ of Faith: ‘Very God of Very God.'”

The Second half titled “Very God, Very Man”, To Chalcedon & Beyond, conclude the last five chapters. “Very God, Very Man,” harking at Chalcedon, in chapters on “The Incarnation,” “Chalcedon: ‘Perfect in Godhead, Perfect in Manhood,'” “Kenosis: Making Himself Nothing,” “The Sinlessness of Christ,” and “No Other Name: The Uniqueness of Christ in Modern Times.” He then closes out with a short “Epilogue”.

Part two of the book tackles the incarnation and how Chalcedon defines and defends it against Docetism, Apollinarianism, and Arianism. While defending the incarnation he shows how the Chalcedon “affirmed the unipersonality of Christ and the Authenticity and perfection of both his natures, human and divine”, (184). He goes on to show how the Chalcedon doctrine refutes heresies like Nestorianism and Monophysitism.

In chapter five Macleod stresses, “The single most important statement was the declaration of the Council of Nicea (325) that Christ, as the Son of God, was homoousios (consubstantial) with the Father” (121). Jesus is God in essence, yet he is distinct from the Father and the Spirit. The purpose of the Council of Nicea was to combat Arianism. He goes on to say, “the future of Christianity as a religion was at stake. If Christ were not God, he could not be the revelation of God. If Christ were not God, men had not been redeemed by God. If Christ were not God, believers were not united to God. Above all, if Christ were not God, Christians had no right to worship him. Indeed, if they did so, they were reverting to pagan superstition and idolatry” (123).

Macleod gives a whole Chapter dedicated to the Kenotic theory. He sets out the arguments of the critics with responses to them. He then shows us True Kenosis. As he quotes Donald Mackinnion, “It is the notion of kenosis which more than any other single notion points to the deepest sense of the mystery of the incarnation” (212). He ends in his epilogue with a challenge to up hold and proclaim the words of Chalcedon in a world of new questions and different languages. The need for the “Chalcedon formula” (264) is of great importance in communicating Christology to the generations to come.

Macleod’s main theme through out the whole book is that the gospels show us the real Jesus. That the creeds are faithful to the gospels and that their main concern is to show that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. Every generation has the task to uphold the purity and integrity of Christology. Through out the book Macleod in each chapter shows the reader in church history someone will always question the person of Christ. Not only does he show how the church fathers refuted heresies of the past but also he gives clear expositions of Scripture to uphold Christology.  

He is not too technical in his exegesis of Scripture but his thoughts are deep and sometimes lofty. The reader can get trapped into too much detail and does not read easily at times. Each chapter is polemical when he critiques those who attack historic Christian orthodoxy. 

Macleod gives his argument to his readers that Holy Scripture, and the gospel writers are most qualified to give us access to the real Jesus. His whole approach is, “I am starting from faith, convinced before I put my pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. This, it seems to me, is also where the gospels start” (16). Jesus is different and not just merely a man. As Macleod says, “He is different because he is God incarnate” (17).

Macleod argues that only the Jesus of the New Testament can explain the Christ of faith. Jesus’ own understanding of his divine status is central for the Church. How central is this? “Christianity, as a religion, depends on the deity of Christ as it does no other single doctrine” (117). He goes on further to drive home the point, “The central feature of Christianity is (and always has been) the worship of Jesus. Any credible account of its origins must explain the rise of such worship. Where can that be found except in Jesus’ understanding of himself as divine? To reject that is not only to deprive Christian worship of its legitimacy but to convict the church itself of self-deception and duplicity” (119).

The truth of this and its implications are vitally important: “The bottom line here is that Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as the Son of God. Whatever we do afterwards, we must first decide what to do with this. If he was correct, we must fall down and worship him. If he was not correct, we must crucify him” (118).

To reinforce his thesis he gives the readers the creeds such as the Nicea and Chalcedon, and insights from Church fathers such as Tertullian, Clement, and Ireanus. He gives many more references to people of Church history to uphold his thesis. He uses their own logic; gives clarity to their questions, gives ear to strong points while debating them, and even gives credit where credit is due. Macleod does a good Job at showing that the progression of Christology was an authentic progression. Councils were necessary for heresies, but the Christology of our day is biblical and historical. It is orthodoxy because it hinges on apostolic understanding.

Macleod introduces us to “Anglican Unitarians”, (241) as he calls the group. They include John A.T. Robinson, G. K. W. Lampe, Don Cupitt, John Knox, Norman Pittenger, Denis Nineham and Maurice Wiles. He argues that they deny key features of historic orthodoxy. There are five points he makes on how they fall from historic orthodoxy. Macleod says that they ultimately deny the incarnation, the pre-existence of Christ, and the post-existence of Christ, Traditional Trinitarian formulations, and the uniqueness of Christ. It is striking that most of all these theologians profess to be Christian yet deny historical orthodoxy.

He even admits that “The Logical path for such scholars to follow would be to renounce Christianity altogether since on their premises it is impossible to regard Jesus as Lord or to worship him as God” (242-243). Though the student of Christology learns much about Christ by understanding what Christ is not. As Macleod shows modern scholarship views that as negative and tries to develop more of a positive statement. Sadly, most attempts come from the camp of liberalism and are more or less detached from the Chalcedonian creed.

The Church will always need those that have gone before and paved the way for purity and clarity in doctrine. Scripture is always the foundation and authority we go by in our understanding of God. Having a low view of Scripture gives us no ground to stand on. Scripture is how we look face to face with Christ. Macleod makes the case that to departfrom Scripture brings dangerous consequences. He is strong at giving us that ground to stand on. Though nothing new is under the sun heresy is still the same heresy yet repacked and called new. It is our job to be good bereans of Scripture and to test the claims of theologians who claim they have something new.

Macleod shows us how important church history is and how we should let the creeds and confessions give us barriers. Looking back and studying them can give us the right starting point on discussing Christology. We need to get Christ right in order to get the gospel right. Christianity hinges on the person of Christ. We need not forget that everyone has a view of Christ but is it Christ of Scripture? I think Macleod in his book shows just how important that is.

The benefits of reading this book have given me a passion to read more in Christology. Not only has it given me more appreciation for the study on the doctrine of Christ. It has given me more appreciation for studying church history. To that I am truly grateful.

Though Macleod’s book may be dated on dealing with contemporary Christology it is a handy resource for the student and the pastor. Some areas in the book can be dull but every Christian needs a resource on Christology. I would also argue that ever Christian would benefit greatly in studying church history to which this book can give a good starting point. The student can benefit from a wealth of terminology and vocabulary from this book. Macleod’s book would be a good reference for reading alongside more modern reformed works on Christology. The book in itself is not a primer on Christology yet it is a solid read.

The External Call

When we look at Scripture there are two kinds of calls: the external call (universal /resistible), and the internal call (limited / effectual).

Today I’ll describe the external call. This is addressed to all, “To you, O men, I call; and my cry is to the children of man” (Prov. 8:4). Christ calls all mankind to repentance, faith and holiness. As Michael Horton puts it, “Scripture proclaims the gospel to everyone. In this outward call, Christ delivers Himself to all as the only Savior. Yet only when the Spirit inwardly and effectually draws sinners to Christ do they actually receive the gift announced to them in the gospel.”

Jesus states, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). This speaks of a call much wider than the elect. It is addressed to many, to millions across the world, across every age. It is the call of the gospel: repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. The prophet Isaiah says, “Turn to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is no one else” (Isa. 45:22). Revelation also speaks of this when it ends with, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). 

The Holy Spirit says to all, come and drink of salvation. This first call is the universal call of the gospel from God through men to every human being to come for salvation. Because this call it is external only, it may be resisted and refused. For example Acts 7:51 “You stiffed necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 also, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ and Him crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” When Paul preached he found that some of his hearers accepted and some rejected his message. It is only through the Spirit that makes the gospel irresistible.

The great commission demands we proclaim the gospel. The gospel call is universal but it is resistible until the power of the Holy Spirit makes it Irresistible. The Holy Spirit is what makes it sweet. To be frank there is nothing we can contribute that is effectual. God is the author and He has the power, so He gets the glory always. 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). 

We may get discouraged and impatient not seeing the fruit of faithfully proclaiming the Gospel to our friends and family, but it shouldn’t make us ashamed. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith'” (Romans 1:16-17). 
It should give us encouragement and passion to proclaim it even more knowing God is the one to make it effective. 

“Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.” (The Canons of Dort, Head of Doctrine 2, article 5)

On my next blog I’ll be looking at the internal call, that is limited but effectual.

Tolkien & Owen On Communion With God

 If you have ever read The Lord of The Rings or watched the movies, one of the main themes that drives the plot is fellowship. You are introduced to characters like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Sam as well as the silly and inseparable duo that enjoy second breakfasts Merry and Pippin. The relationships each had with each other were deep before the great journey and it grew more intimate while on it. Struggles and battles, victories and loss all shaped the fellowship they had with each other. At the end you got a glimpse of how the bonds that they made were indivisible.

This is the stuff of communion.

And it doesn’t just happen in fantasy. The fellowship of close friends in a common purpose embodies one of the most precious privileges that we cherish and long for in this life. Whether in a strong Christian marriage or with that friend who sticks “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24), or, ultimately, in our union and communion with God.

Communion With God 

Normally when we see or hear the word ‘communion’ we automatically think of the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Communion hopefully does happen when we do the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not limited to that event. John Owen says it like this, “Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in anything whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions.” To have Communion with God is an intimate, mutual, covenantal bond between God and his people. Normally when the Bible talks about communion and fellowship, specifically in the New Testament, the Greek word is koinonia. The words primary meaning is “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” J.I. Packer does much for us in explaining what this kind of communion with God looks like, “Communion with God is a relationship in which Christians receive love from, and respond in love to, all three persons of the Trinity.”

Read the words of Owen. “Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. Our communion then, with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” So without Christ and ultimately because of sin, communion with God is impossible. As Owen puts it, “By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God. He is light, we are darkness; and what communion hath light with darkness?” Communion can only be a reality because of the Triune God being sovereign has sought to reconcile His enemies to Himself. By sending His Son, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The wrath we deserve fell upon Him and He stood in our place as our substitute. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

This communion is possible because each of the persons of the Trinity plays a unique role in the salvation of the elect (1 John 5:7). The Father elects to save His people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). The Son is appointed and willingly offers Himself as the Savior and Mediator (Luke 22:29; Heb. 10:5–7). The Holy Spirit furnishes Christ with the gifts necessary to accomplish His saving work (Luke 1:35; 3:21–22; 4:18), and also applies the benefits of Christ’s work to those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:38–39; 17:4). Thus, in a delightful harmony of mutual love and purpose, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally covenanted to redeem the elect community.

The glorious truth is this that, all areas of our covenant relationship to God are Triune “so that no one may boast.”

Our justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are ‘Triunely’ planned, purchased, and applied. Our access to God is through Christ, by the Spirit, and to the Father (Eph. 2:18). The gifts of the Spirit are won by Christ and offered to the Father (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Our worship is through the mediation of Christ, by the Spirit, and presented to the Father. Our prayers are in the name of Christ, by the Spirit, and addressed to the Father.

All that we have from God and enjoy with him is Triune.