6 Ways to Stay Humble

An old country song goes like this: “Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Most of us would not put it so bluntly, but we all find it hard to be humble. The problem with us is that we forget who we are in the grand scheme of things. We must remember that we are but dust created in the image of God and made to display His worth. One particular passage of Scripture is thoroughly helpful in turning our eyes off our own navels and onto God’s glory: Philippians 2:5-11. By meditating on the gospel in this text, even the most prideful among us will be leveled low.

To stay in a humbled position…

Feast your eyes on the matchless glory of Christ (vv. 5-6)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…”

Paul ascends to breathe the air of Mount Everest in this ancient hymn of the church. He speaks of Jesus’ divinity and equal status as God with the Father and Spirit. By bringing us to heaven, Paul reveals the amazing condescension of Christ coming to earth and the cross. Getting a fresh look at the majesty of Christ always has the effect of humbling the believer’s pride. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on His throne, he cried out, “Woe to me!…I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). When Peter saw Jesus’ glory in the fishing boat, he fell on his knees before him and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Make it a practice everyday to behold Christ’s glory in His Word and carry it with you. This will put a check on your prideful moments during the day and remind you who you really are apart from Him. Before you open your Bible, pray with Moses, “Show me your glory, Lord” or with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things from your law.”

Contemplate Christ’s humbling Himself in the incarnation (v. 7)

“…but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…”

The steps toward humility are not upward, but downward. Christ stepped down into this world, humbling Himself greatly for us. We must follow Him if we wish to be properly humble. We would be wrong to assume that in the incarnation, Christ was subtracting certain aspects of His divinity in order to save us. It isn’t subtraction going on here, but addition. Stephen Wellum, in his book, God the Son Incarnate, helps us see this when he writes, “Paul’s point then, is not that Christ exchanged the ‘form of God’ for the ‘form of a servant’ but that he manifests the ‘form of God’ in the ‘form of a servant.’ The text says nothing about Christ emptying his divine attributes. Rather, he empties himself by adding to himself a complete human nature and a willingness to undergo the agony of death for our sake and for our salvation.” Wellum quotes theologian Donald Macleod, who also informs us by writing how Christ, “had glory with the Father before the world began (Jn. 17:5)…He possessed all the majesty of deity, performed all its functions and enjoyed all its prerogatives. He was adored by his Father and worshipped by angels. He was invulnerable to pain, frustration, and embarrassment. He existed in unclouded serenity. His supremacy was total, his satisfaction complete, his blessedness perfect. Such a condition was not something he had secured by effort. It was the way things were, and had always been; and there was no reason why they should change. But change they did, and they changed because…Christ did not insist on his rights.”

The thought that this glorious a subject would choose to undergo birth as a human baby with all the limitations of life in this fallen world is truly astounding and ought to keep us ever humbled.

Think over the servant-hearted nature of Christ (vv. 7-8a)

“...taking on the form of a servant…”

It was this divine Sovereign who dwelt from eternity past in perfect fellowship with the Godhead who stooped to wash the filthy feet of the disciples. God’s Agent of creation who lit the fire of a million blazing suns with His powerful words washed a mixture of sweat, dirt, and animal feces off the feet of fishermen. In one of the key passages in John Mark’s account of the gospel, Jesus defines His mission in this way: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)

Behold the wonder of Christ crucified for sinners (v. 8)

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The lowest step was not the manger. It was the cross of Calvary. Keith and Kristyn Getty, ponder the wonder of the cross in their song Gethsemane, when they write:

“What took Him to this wretched place,

What kept Him on this road?

His love for Adam’s cursed race,

For every broken soul.

No sin too slight to overlook,

No crime too great to carry,

All mingled in this poisoned cup ‚

And yet He drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all,

The Saviour drank it all.”

The first place we all must look in our struggle with pride is the cross. As low and despised as the cross was, John presents it as the place where Jesus reigns in the fullest extent of His glory. We see at the cross so many things: the ugliness of sin that it would crucify God’s Son, the wrath of God against sin, and the love of God in Christ for sinners that He would go to such an extent to save us.

Worship the now exalted and glorified Christ on bended knee (vv. 9-11)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Once we come to this point, we are properly humbled. We realize we are nothing and Christ is worthy of all the glory. Now that we are on our spiritual knees where we belong, Paul reminds us that Christ’s pre-incarnate glory has been restored and he promises us that one Day every soul will acknowledge it. Paul’s phrase comes from Isaiah 45:23 where we see this One to receive all glory is none other than the only God Himself. We must make it our aim each moment of the day to keep our spiritual knees bent. Christ will receive all the glory and we must give it to Him through our daily lives.

Get busy serving others in the name of Christ

It would be easy at this point to be so eclipsed and engulfed in this glorious gospel that we forget that it carries with it everyday ramifications. The gospel is never given to us so that we can simply bask in its light and forget the world outside. Christ didn’t die to simply make us worshipers, but to make worshipers of His glory through us. Christ humbled Himself to serve us so that we would follow His lead and humble ourselves to serve others too. Look for humbling and lowly acts of service Christ may be leading you toward. It may mean doing something uncomfortable for you and yet the very doing of it will help you flesh out this gospel theology. There are widows around us who don’t see God’s love in action. There are neighbors around us who wonder if there is such a thing as authentic love. Whether it be a mission trip, a chance to work in the nursery, or the opportunity to bring food to a hurting family, only we will give an account to God for how we practically live out this gospel. But whatever we do, we must carry the humbling gospel message with us and serve out of this glorious news.

Christmas in July

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

A few years ago my Nephew Eli and I were playing with Lego blocks. We had stacked them all into a giant tower. It was our creation.  We designed it and we put it together. When we were finished he leaned in close to me and with a mischievous smirk on his face whispered, “Let’s knock it down.” And we could have done that. We designed it. We created it. We put it together. We could do whatever we wanted with it. It was our creation. I suggested, however, that we show his dad what we made, so we did. And then I believe we knocked it over. It was a lot of fun.

I enjoyed my afternoon designing and creating block towers with Eli. However, if you were to ask me if I would ever willingly become a block in order to save other blocks (if I could ever do such a thing) I would think you were crazy. Never would I lower myself to the point of being a block to save other blocks. Why on earth would I ever do that – not a chance.

But this is exactly what Jesus did for us. We are told in John 1:14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He became one of us in order to save us.

Philippians chapter 2 tells us that Jesus (the Creator of the universe, who was God Himself) “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus humbled Himself and took on flesh in order to die for sinful humanity, and as Paul makes clear in Romans 5 “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). Jesus didn’t die for a people who were warm and welcoming toward Him, but He died for rebels far from Him. When it comes down to it how often are we willing to help those who are against us? Typically not very. However, Jesus lays down His life for sinners like you and me.

He left heaven, and all its splendor, to dwell among us.  Jesus came to save sinners. What a gracious God we serve. I know we are right smack dab in the middle of the hot summer months and Christmas is over and done with until next December, but it is never a wrong time to consider what God has done for us in Christ. God left heaven to become a “block” in order to save other blocks.

May Easter Weekend Smite Your Heart With Christ’s Beauty

At the end of Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings there is a scene to behold. Far into the dark and evil land of Mordor a solemn and weary Samwise Gamgee looked up into the sky, saw the clouds part, and beheld a single star. Tolkien describes this moment like this, “Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”[1]

In the evil and fallenness of our own present existence we often feel a similar despair, and may be tempted to lose all hope. But like the single star that smote Sam’s heart with a beauty that revived his soul for the journey before him, so too, there is one thing that can smite our hearts with a fierce beauty and revive us again – the good news, or the gospel of, Jesus Christ. “One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face and the fountain of His sweet grace and love…” says Jonathan Edwards “…will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than examining old experiences by the best mark that can be given a whole year.”

Being that it is Easter weekend, I want to remind you of great gospel truth. To see the wonders of the gospel I want to take you to 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, where we see two things: A Reminder of the Gospel (v1-2) and An Explanation of the Gospel (v3-7)

A Reminder of the Gospel (v1-2)

Here at the end of a long letter to the Corinthians Paul begins chapter 15 (which contains his famous defense of the resurrection) by reminding them of the gospel he had once preached to them. He says they not only received it at first in the past, but that they continue in the present moment to stand fast in it and are being saved by it. So for these Corinthians, and really for all Christians, believing in the gospel is part of our past, something that we at one time did. Whether it was from our parents, friends, a book, a preacher or however we heard it, we heard the gospel, felt convinced of it’s truthfulness, repented of our sin, embraced it by faith, and experienced the power of God in salvation – this is a past memory for all Christians. But notice how Paul is speaking here: belief in the gospel is not just something involving our past, it’s also something that has an ongoing present and future importance to us.[2]

Yes our past is settled, but because of the gospel our present is secure and our future is certain. Thus, we can hold fast to Christ amid the troubles of this world knowing that Christ has been, is, and always will be holding fast to us.

Note the “if” as v2 ends? After all the glory of receiving, standing in, and continuing to be saved by the gospel, Paul says “if you continue to hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” There is a warning for us here, a call to examine how we first believed in Christ. We will only stand in and be saved by the gospel in the end if we received it correctly at the beginning, that is in true repentance and true faith. By this Paul means, if we cease to hold fast to the gospel in the present moment it is evidence that we, at first, believed in the gospel in vain. Or we can read this another other way – if we truly believed in the gospel at first, we will hold fast to it for all our days.

Well what is the gospel Paul is eager to remind them of?

An Explanation of the Gospel (v3-7)

Let me read these words again, so they wash over you afresh. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind them that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man. Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved. Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church[3], and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us.

I do wonder if on the surface of things some of you think writing to Christians about what the gospel is is as unnecessary as explaining what a hammer is to a group of carpenters.[6] But as Paul was eager to remind these Corinthians of the gospel, I’m eager to remind you as well.

A deep belief and embrace of the gospel and the kind of full life the gospel leads to is a mark of a healthy local church. Sure we gather together to sing of the gospel, to pray over and from the gospel, to hear preaching about the gospel, and to see the gospel in the sacraments, but has this gospel gotten into your soul? Has it reminded you of the propositions of good news? I pray it has, and I pray it continues to do so.

As that small star high up in the sky smote Sam Gamgee’s heart with beauty, may the gospel, may this gospel, ever smite your heart with the beauty of God.

 

 

Citations:

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, quoted in Ray Ortlund’s The Gospel, page 55.

[2] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 259.

[3] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, page 296.

[4] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 261.

[5] Christopher Ash has a book about this that’s worth reading, Zeal Without Burnout.

[6] Greg Gilbert speaks of this in the opening pages of his small book, What is the Gospel?

Confidence From Comfort With John’s Prologue

Having the right tool for the job is fundamental for getting the job not only done, but done correctly. I learned this firsthand in my days as a quick lube mechanic. I remember walking into the shop on my first day, sitting down with the shop manager to learn the ins and outs of how the shop ran. After a lengthy introduction he extended his hand and gave me a small flathead screwdriver. I was puzzled at first, and couldn’t see how such a small tool could ever be of use in this line of work. But he looked me in the eye and said, “I give every new guy this small flathead, because it’s fundamental to the work we do here.” As I thanked him, walked out, and began working I couldn’t for the life of me understand how this little tool would be something I use so often. But as I progressed in my knowledge and skill, I grew more comfortable with the small wrench, and found that I was using it to do all sorts of things I never dreamed of. In fact, the more comfortable I became with it, the more confident I grew in my ability to work on any car that happened to come in the shop.

I begin with this today because as soon as we enter the gospel of John we find something similar. The first section of John 1 is fundamental to Christian belief. So fundamental in fact, that without them we lose much of the Christianity we know. As with this little tool, the more comfortable you are with these verses the more confident you’ll become about your Christian belief. And confidence, or a firm certainty about our convictions is exactly why John wrote this gospel account. In 20:30-31 he says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John didn’t write his gospel to give an indifferent observation, no, he wrote this account to persuade us that these things are true and life-giving.

John 1:1-18 forms what has come to be known as ‘The Prologue.’ Only John gives us an introduction like this. Matthew and Luke begin with birth narratives while Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. John begins with an 18 verse introduction intended to answer basic questions about Jesus. Questions like: Who is He? Why did He come? Where is He from? As John answers these questions we cannot help but find ourselves simply astounded. Concerning this prologue the notes in the Gospel Transformation study Bible say this, “The prologue of John’s gospel is like the opening movement of a grand symphony. It is meant to grab our attention and draw us into the story – the story of all stories.” R.C. Sproul in his commentary on John likewise states, “No portion of the New Testament captured the imagination and the attention of the Christian intellectual community for the first three centuries more than this brief section.”

Three things to see in the first eleven verses of this prologue.

A Distinct Deity (v1-5)

“In the beginning…” These first three words are words we should all be familiar with. John isn’t the only one to begin his writing with them, Moses begins Genesis with them as well. That John uses the same words here is intended to teach us that just as God did His work of creation then, God is now doing His work of new creation here. How does God intend to carry out His work of new creation? v1-3 continues, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Think back to Genesis again. In Genesis we see God creating all things by speaking them into existence saying “Let there be…” and there was. Now in this work of new creation it’s clear that God’s bringing it about by something John calls “the Word.” This Word is not only present in beginning of all things, John says the Word is God and the Word is with God. That the Word is God shows that the Word is Deity or identified with God, but also when John says the Word is with God he shows that the Word is distinct or distinguished from God. Both full-blown Deity and divine distinction are present in the Word.

To further add to this did you notice there’s an addition in v3 that’s not in v1-2? v3 refers to the Word as “Him.” This prohibits us from speaking of the Word as an impersonal force or some kind of vague power. That John refers to the Word as ‘Him’ means the Word is a Person, indeed one of the three Persons in the Trinity. To further add again, when taking into account the Greek translation of Word, which is ‘logos’, leads us to even more. The logos was a Greek philosophical concept used to convey an abstract force that brought harmony, order, and reason into the universe. So in order for the Greeks to be wise or on the right path to wisdom they had to be in touch with the logos. Well John uses this loaded Greek term here in the beginning of his gospel to teach us the true meaning of ‘logos.’ It’s not an impersonal force that brings harmony, order, and reason into the universe, no, the logos is none other than God’s divine self-expression. Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms this saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days God has SPOKEN to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world. He (the Son) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” This Word of John 1:1-3 is none other than the Word God spoke to create the world in Genesis 1. But it’s more than just language, the Word is God wrapped in skin, or to say it another way God’s very Son.

When we come to v4-5 we see John bring up themes that are all found in abundance within Genesis: life, light, and darkness. Not surprisingly these are some of the major themes of John’s gospel. Specifically in v4-5 we see that while God spoke the world into being and shattered the dark void during creation, so too God sent His Word into the world and the Word’s life and light shatter the dark void of this sinful world during new creation. The Word of v1-3 in v4-5 is the source of life and this life is the source of all light in the world and in men. No wonder why John include the time when Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12) It is true, light and darkness are opposites. It’s also true that some speak of the Christian life as a battle between these opposites. Though this is true to a degree, do not believe the lie that they are opposites of equal power. The light of the Word, the light of Christ overcomes all darkness. This is why John would later write this in 1 John 2:8, “…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” So through the Word life and light come into the darkness, and even though some may mock at the song or phrase, when one comes to faith in Christ one truly has ‘seen the light.’

A Humdrum Humility (v6-8)

About that light, in v6-8, John moves to what seems to be an intrusion into a text full of timeless truths. John probably brings up John the Baptist for two reasons: first, to remind us that these timeless truths mentioned in v1-5 are actually attached to real history. And second, because of the fame of John the Baptist, it seems that (even though he repeatedly told people otherwise) some thought he was the “light” that had come into the world. One example of this is found in Acts 18:25 where Luke mentions that the famed orator Apollos only ‘knew of the baptism of John.’ So to remove all doubt the apostle John makes it explicit that the John the Baptist wasn’t the light, but rather had come to bear witness about the light.

In v6-8 we see such a stark difference with what came before. In the introduction of the Word in v1-3 we see an eternal existence, One who is God, One who is with God, and One whom the world was made through, and in v6 we see something different. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” That’s it. The contrast is blinding when you think of majestic words given to Jesus and the mundane words given to John. But the Baptist would have it no other way! He knew his task – to bear witness to one infinitely greater than he. One day soon this Baptist would say “He must increase, I must decrease.” He truly was called by God, and that is great, but don’t miss is – the message he preached was exemplified in his introduction to us here. We would be fools to think we could do life any other way…to think that we’ll gain honor in this world by preaching the greatness of another. Not in a million years. The character of the kingdom is decrease, not increase.

An Illuminating Incarnation (v9-11)

This third and last section for us today begins with the remedy for those who thought John was the true light. “The true Light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Here the Word of v1-3 is said to be both the Light come into the world, but the source of all true illumination in the world. Recall v4, “In Him is life and the life is the light of men.” John the Baptist is the Light, this Word is the Light, and in His light all the darkness of sin and unbelief scatters. But notice how this happened. v7 says the Baptist came as a witness to the Light, and here in v9 it says the Word came into the world as the Light. The Word came. Where was the Word before He came? v1-3 tell us He not only was God but that He was with God as well. So the Word that was God and with God left the throne of God and came here among us. And with His coming there also came a holy light that illumines the hearts of men. Speaking of this illumination, the Swiss theologian Heinrich Bullinger once said when Christ comes as Light into our hearts He comes to, “…instruct, to regenerate, to vivify, to sanctify, to liberate, and to justify.” Or as David Crowder says, “God spoke, and my heart, it burst to life!”

Yet, though the Word was God and with God, and though the world had been made through the Word, when the Word came v10-11 says the Word was rejected. This is a summary statement of what would eventually happen to Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, during His incarnation. The world did not know Him, His own people rejected Him, He was not received. There is no greater wickedness. There is no greater evil. There is no greater sin than to reject Jesus Christ. Many people, believers and unbelievers alike, know and could quote John 3:16 verbatim without a moment of hesitation. Few people can quote John 3:18, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Historically this prologue is significant. Many rejected these very things, taught other things, been tried by Church councils, and condemned as heretics for teaching false doctrine. Men such as: Arius, Apollinaris, Eutychus, and Nestorius are some examples of men who denied John 1 and taught that Jesus isn’t who John says He is. For more modern examples: did you know Jehovah’s Witness have altered the translation of John 1:1 because they reject Jesus’ deity? Did you know Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, also altered the translation of John 1:1 for the same reason? To move away from John 1 will still leave you with many beliefs, but those beliefs will not be Christian to any degree. Many churches and many Christians can disagree on many things and still remain Christian. But no one can call themselves a Christian while rejecting the deity and distinction of the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.

What is Union with Christ?

Last year I began one of my Sunday morning sermons with the following illustration:

“Before Holly and I got married I was a poor college graduate who had just begun seminary and that meant that I had zero income. Holly, on the other hand, had graduated, she had already started working, which meant her bank account was full. After an 8 month engagement the day finally came, and Holly and I arrived at a beautiful church in downtown McDonough, GA to be married in the presence of God, family, and friends. My eyes filled with tears as she walked down the aisle, my heart pounded with excitement, and a marvelous thing took place that day. Not only did I gain a godly and gorgeous wife that I didn’t deserve, I also gained a full bank account. I said ‘I do’ and my bank account went from empty to full. From no work of my own, simply because our lives were now united as one everything that belonged to her became mine and the little I had became hers. You see the greater lesson in this don’t you? When we become Christians, when we God saves us, we’re adopted into a family we we’re not naturally born into and united to Him, and from no work of our own everything that belongs to Him becomes ours.”

Recall a few weeks ago when we covered justification we said there were benefits from our justification: adoption, union with Christ, sanctification, and glorification. Today I want to continue addressing these benefits by turning your attention to our mystical and wonderful union with Christ. Let’s begin with two questions:

What is Our Union with Christ?

In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof defines union with Christ as an “…intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and His people, in virtue of which He is the source of their life and strength, of their blessedness and salvation.” So this union with Christ is greater than a merger or a blending, it is a vibrant, life giving, and familial bond. It is such a close bond Paul mentions that we have died and our lives are now “hid with Christ in God” in Colossians 3. This intimate, vital, and spiritual union is seen in the one phrase repeatedly found throughout the New Testament. In fact, it’s repeated so often that I believe this one phrase reveals the sum and substance of Paul’s theology. Do you know what this phrase is?

“In Him” or “In Christ”

In Him God has given us every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), in Him we were chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), in Him we have redemption (Eph. 1:7), in Him all things are united (Eph. 1:10), in Him we have an inheritance (Eph. 1:11), and in Him we were sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). We are the body in Him who is the Head (1 Cor. 6), we are the branches in Him who is the Vine (John 15), we are the sinners made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21), and we are living stones in Him who is the Cornerstone (1 Pet. 2). In Christ there is no condemnation or separation (Rom. 8), all those in Christ are sons of Abraham (Gal. 3), we’re alive to God in Christ (Rom. 6:11), we have eternal life in Christ (Rom. 6:23), the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ (Rom. 8:1), we are wise in Christ (1 Cor. 4:10), God establishes us in Christ (2 Cor. 1:21), God leads us in triumph in Christ (2 Cor. 2:14), we become new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and on and on and on! The one dominating theme of Paul’s theology is that because of God’s work, we are ‘in Him’ or ‘in Christ.’ We truly do encounter our union with Christ from eternity to eternity.

Anthony Hoekema, in his book Saved By Grace (page 64), helpfully points out that we experience our union with Christ in eight different ways.

1) We are initially united with Christ in regeneration (Eph. 2:4-5, 10).

2) We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:16-17).

3) We are justified in union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9).

4) We are sanctified through union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; John 15:4-5; Eph. 4:16; 2 Cor. 5:17).

5) We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ (John 10:27-28; Rom. 8:38-39).

6) We are even said to die in Christ (Rom. 14:8; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 14:13).

7) We shall be raised with Christ (Col. 3:1; 1 Cor. 15:22).

8) We shall be eternally glorified with Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:16-17).

This is distinctively Christian, no other world religion has anything teaches anything like this. Burk Parsons said it well on Twitter just this past week, “Union with Christ is a uniquely Christian doctrine. Muslims don’t claim to be ‘in Mohammed’ or ‘in Allah’ or Buddhists ‘in Buddha.’” Yet in the pages of sacred Scripture we find a thing of wonder. Not only has God elected us from the before the foundation of the world, not only has He called us, regenerated us, granted us repentance and faith, justified us, and adopted us. Wonder of wonders – He unites us with Christ so close that when He sees us (yes, sinners like us) He sees the manifold perfections of His Son. This is our union with Christ.

What does Union with Christ Lead to?

It is wise to remember that all ideas have consequences, some good and some bad. The truth of our union with Christ has only glorious consequences.

It Gives us a Sure Identity

At home we are currently teaching our oldest son about where his identity comes from. One of the ways we do this is to ask him two questions. First we ask ‘where do you find out who you are?’ The answer is ‘in Jesus.’ Then we ask ‘where do you not find out who you are?’ and the answer is ‘in yourself.’ We should be asking ourselves these questions daily. This all comes from our union with Christ. We do not find out who we truly are by looking at who we are, what we’ve done, or where we come from, no. We look to Christ. In Christ we have our sure identity.

It Transforms our Obedience and Repentance

Too many of us think that trying harder or doing better accomplishes our sanctification. Yet, Jesus plainly tells us the way we produce fruit and grow in our sanctification is by our abiding in Him and enjoying our union with Him. This is His entire point in John 15 when He speaks of us being the branches that must abide in Him, the Vine. The life sustaining power for growth is in the Vine, and if we’re to grow we must be united with that Vine. This is also true when we move over to Paul’s writing. In almost every place where the New Testament commands us to obey God in this or that way, close by and usually before the command we find a statement that we are ‘in Christ.’ Back in seminary Dr. John Fesko used to often tell us, “We do not live for our union with Christ or our acceptance with God, no, we live from our union with Christ and our acceptance in Him.” This changes how we obey God. We do not obey to earn a right standing with God. Rather, we obey from our right standing with God already given to us in Christ. So we obey from a sure identity in Christ, not from our activity for Christ. And think about the reverse and the wonders this does for our repentance. When you disobey we do not face an angry judge, but a grieved yet loving Father.

It Brings us into a United Family, the Church

What do I mean when I say that union with Christ brings us into a united family, the church? I mean this: union with Christ creates unity in Christ.

In Ephesians 2:1-10 we find out what God has done to bring us into union with Him. Then in a surprising twist in 2:11-22 we see what God has done to bring into unity with the Church universal. After 2:13 Paul doesn’t return to focus on who we once were apart from Christ, he turns to describe who we are after God has brought us to Himself through Christ. This has implications that are both personal and communal, and when you read 2:14-18 you can see Paul going back and forth between the personal implications of 2:13 and the communal implications of 2:13 almost in every verse which shows us that our life God started when He saved us individually, has more to do with just us individually, it has everything to do with the community of people God then brings us into. True unity of the Church, therefore, only comes through those who have been united to God through Christ by the Spirit.

Eph. 2:21 unfolds this profound reality by stating that Christ is not only the foundation as the Cornerstone of the Church, but that in Christ the whole structure is being joined together forming a holy temple in the Lord. This again shows us what the Church is – it is a unified community, which finds its unity in Christ. And O’ how important this unity is! All believers, you and I, being united to Christ by faith find ourselves united to one another in Christ. There is no society more sacred than the Christ’s Church. We together form what Paul calls a ‘holy temple in the Lord’ revealing again that when we move over from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant we find ourselves being moved by God out of the physical into the spiritual. The temple was to be the center of God’s activity among His people, to which all nations would come and see the King of Kings. Now in the New Covenant there is a spiritual temple as the center of God’s presence among His people – what is this spiritual temple being built up by the Lord? It is you and I, it is the Church. It is also dazzling in its beauty having every intricate detailed and mapped out by God to be beautiful beyond words. No longer do the nations have to come and see this beauty, but we as the unified holy temple of God go to the nations and bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Because of our great union with Christ, and because it produces a unity within the Church, we must come to see that our unity within the Church isn’t merely a good idea or a church growth principle that pastors and leaders try to convince you of. No, it’s life and death. Churches that are full of discord are unhealthy, inward focused churches that misrepresent and mar the true picture of the gospel to the communities their in. But, churches that are unified are healthy, gospel-spreading churches that display the truth of the gospel within their communities.

Our union with Christ is great. It is a great benefit of our justification, and it brings itself great benefits to the Church.

Desire of Nations

As this time of Advent is quickly coming to a close, I would like us to take a second and remember the final verse of that great hymn that I have been walking us through the last few weeks, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. In the final verse we are reminded of one of the greatest gifts that Jesus would be and that is the desire of nations.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

To fully appreciate the biblical significance of this closing verse we must remember that God was not a sectarian God and His desire for the nations to worship Him was not a new revelation only seen in the Birth of Christ.  In narrative form we see it throughout the Old Testament as men and women who are not from the Jewish people come and worship God. We see in the line of Jesus himself four women who have gentile origins. However, specifically when thinking about the nations worshiping God two sections of Scripture jump off the page. The first is in Haggai 2. Here the Prophet encourages the Governor and High Priest in Israel that there is coming a time where the glory of God will be truly revealed in the temple, and this is when all nations desire and worship Him alone. In this prophecy God declares that the nations are coming and will worship Him. If you are a believer in Christ today and are not of Jewish heritage this verse should be an encouragement to you. You were a part of the plan of God, your salvation was prophesied about long before you breathed a word in this life.

The other text which most evidently comes to mind is the celebration before the throne of God in Revelation 5. In this text a great song is sung before the throne of God, and in it His people and all the angels declare that the Lamb of God receives glory from people of every tribe, tongue and nation, through His death and resurrection. Here we see laid before us the clear truth that it is Christ who brought the nations back to God. It is through Jesus alone that the people of God following His resurrection begin to transcend their own geographical limitations. But even before the apostles go to the ends of the earth there is one final thing I think should be remembered about as it relates to seeing the Christ as the desire of nations and that is evidenced in Matthew 2.

In Chapter 2 we witness that Jesus’s birth narrative ushered in the beginning of this new global worship when it was not the rulers or religious establishment who came to Him in Bethlehem when he was a young child, no, it was Magi from Persia. For Matthew it seems very important for us to see that one of the key figures in the celebration and worship of the Messiah were men from the very nation that once held them captive. For out of Persia these men studied the stars and awaited a prophecy that was not from Jewish origin, that we are aware of, but one that pointed to a true Messiah who would save the nations. And so in the very opening to the first Gospel narrative written to a Jewish audience we have the nations gather to this Child to worship.

Now how does this affect us? There are several things that Scripture points to when we see God as being more than a 1st century sectarian deity. By understanding that He is the one and true God who rules over all nations and people, and that only in Him can true salvation be found, we become motivated to take the truth of this reality to others.  Therefore as believers it is our commission and honor to take the hope of Christ to the nations. For some that may mean traveling around the world preaching the gospel, others this could simply mean engaging with your neighbors from other cultures and backgrounds presenting them with the true meaning of Jesus. The commission to all of us is to go and make disciples, we see in the book of Acts the gospel goes forth beginning in Jerusalem with the people of Israel but then flows out across the nations to north Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, in Europe to the edges of Spain. The Word of God would continue and push forward to all people and in time to the ends of the earth. Today the call remains for us all to go and be lights in this dark world as we present the gospel and call people to worship.

So as you gather together this Christmas morning with the people of God to worship the birth of your Savior let it be a reminder as you look around the room at your brothers and sisters from many different lands that Christ is bigger than you, that His kingdom is global and eternal. 

Let us therefore worship the Desire of Nations and seek to join Him in calling the nations to worship. 

Advent and Immanuel

With the season of Advent coming into full bloom and the music of the season in the air I want to visit one of the most popular songs of the season: O Come, O Come Immanuel. 

It is a song rich with history, being originally traced back to the 8th century as a responsive reading, it is one of the oldest songs of advent we still sing in the modern Church. One of the reasons I believe it still holds a place so near and dear to most of us is its reliance on the biblical text to bring comfort, truth and grace through music to God’s children. This 1200 year old hymn points us straight back to Scripture and the truth and brings life and comfort to the weary soul. So over my next few blog posts I will walk through the biblical significance of this song’s verses and the comfort we can draw from the promise and fulfillment of Christ’s first Advent, and see how it brings greater joy and anticipation for His second.

So with that in mind we begin with the first verse of that classic song:

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

This first verse has its origins back in  Isaiah 7 in the days of Ahaz king of Judah. In that day God offered the king a chance to ask of Him whatever he wished ask proof of God’s love and protection for His people, but rather than accept this gift of God, Ahaz spurned the gift and God in the process. Rather than trust in God for deliverance and protection for the people, Ahaz turned to political allegiance and military strength to find peace. It is in this setting that God brings forth the prophecy that a virgin will bear a son and he will be named Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). This sign was meant to be a reminder that God was the only hope for His people, because before this even would come to pass His people would suffer at the hands of the very alliance the king had established.

However, The king’s disobedience and sin would make a way in time for God’s ultimate blessing. For God didn’t leave His people in exile and suffering but rather brought forth in time the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah to king Ahaz in the giving of His Son to the world. In the midst of the great fear of the ages and the new captivity of Israel to the people of Rome, God would now dwell with His people. Immanuel was to be born to a virgin in the city of David.

Now before the Child would be born the Lord sent an angel to instruct her fiancé in the truth of what was to take place. We see this in Luke 1:18-23 where we see a picture of angel’s interaction with Joseph. In this vision he is instructed to name the child Jesus, for He would save the people from their sins, but not only would He be named Jesus, He would be Immanuel. In this short passage of Scripture the name Immanuel become intricately connected to the name Jesus. In Jesus we see that God’s presence with His people is linked with His love for them and the desire to set them free from the lasting pain of sin. He takes on the name that echoed back to the very founding of the nation in the land of Canaan as Joshua lead his people to political freedom. Now the new Joshua (the Hebrew name that Jesus comes from) will set them free from a far greater danger, that of sin and death, and the only means by which he could do this is if he was the Immanuel, God himself residing with His people.

For us we are blessed to know that God did keep His promise to the people of Israel and we are the humble recipients of His grace and mercy. God came to us and set us free form our sin and set us on the path of righteousness, but He did not leave us on that path alone. 

In both Narratives we see God’s faithfulness to His people in the midst of uncertainty. So too in this advent season we know that God is still faithful to His people, though it took over 700 years for the true fulfillment of Immanuel to take place, He was faithful. In our day and age we have the blessing of seeing and experiencing the gift of the first Advent. As believers we experience the grace of God daily, all the more if you are not born Jewish, for in Christ He brought us gentiles into the family of God.

Today, while we experience the great blessings of Christ, may we also look forward to the eternal blessing of His second advent. One of the great blessings of God being with His people is that it is more than a metaphysical reality of the past, it is a real present experience, and a future hope in His final return. So let us sing out with gladness not only because He has come and set free the first captive Israel from their sin, but that He shall return again to bring the true Israel to Himself for eternity.