“The love of Christ constrains us, since we have made this judgment, that one died for all; therefore all died. And he died for all in order that the ones who live might no longer live for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
What does it mean to be a Christian? Charles Hodge sees the answer in this text: “It is being so constrained by a sense of the love of our divine Lord to us, that we consecrate our lives to him.”
Being a Christian does not mean merely believing in our head that Christ died for us. It means “being constrained” by that reality. The truth presses in on us; it grips and holds; it impels and controls. It surrounds us and won’t let us run from it. It cages us into joy.
But how does it do that? Paul says that the love of Christ for him constrains him because of a judgment that he formed about that death. “. . . having made this judgment, that one died for all therefore all died.” Paul became a Christian not when he decided that Christ died for sinners, but when he made the sober judgment that the death of Christ was also the death of all for whom he died. Continue reading “What Is a Christian?”
Have you ever watched an opossum escape from a predator? They use a defense mechanism distinct to only a few animals—playing dead. When faced with a threat, an opossum will often fall on the ground, close his eyes, extend his limbs, and lie very still. He appears lifeless—and harmless. But when the danger passes, he revives and scurries away. You can almost hear laughter as he makes his escape.
Playing dead seems to be an effective means of survival, but opossums aren’t the sole practitioners of that strategy.
Our sins often “play dead” too, especially when faced with the threat of execution. They fake death in order to escape it. While you may think you’ve slain a particular sin, sometimes life still pulses within your enemy and it secretly takes its leave, stays quiet, and waits on danger to pass. Continue reading “When Sin Plays Dead”
“The Gospel is the message, the salvation-bringing proclamation concerning Christ that he was sent by God the Father…to procure eternal life. The Law is contained in precepts, it threatens, it burdens, it promises no goodwill. The Gospel acts without threats, it does not drive one on by precepts, but rather teaches us about the supreme goodwill of God towards us.” –John Calvin
Law & Gospel: the “two words” of Scripture
In order to recover the sufficiency of Scripture we must once again learn to distinguish the Law and the Gospel as the “two words” of Scripture. For the Reformers, it was not enough to believe in inerrancy. Since Rome also had a high view of Scripture in theory, the Reformers were not criticizing the church for denying its divine character. Rather, they argued that Rome subverted its high view of Scripture by the addition of other words and by failing to read and proclaim Scripture according to its most obvious sense. Continue reading “The Law & the Gospel”
Because sin is not merely doing bad things but an even deeper problem of building our identity on someone or something other than God alone, the solution to idolatry is not to change our behavior but to have a complete reorientation of our nature at the deepest level of our being, or what Jesus called being born again.
You must be born again
In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, a man named Nicodemus came to meet with Jesus. Nicodemus was a devoutly religious man. As a Pharisee, he would have committed large sections of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory and been revered as morally upright, intelligent, and among the holiest of men. In John 3:3, Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This confused Nicodemus, so Jesus explained that there are two births. The first birth is our physical birth that occurs when our mother’s water breaks and we are brought into this world. By virtue of our first birth we are physically alive but spiritually dead. The second birth is our spiritual birth whereby God the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again so that we are both physically and spiritually alive.
Unlike religion, which is based on fear that forces people to do what they do not want to do, regeneration is based on love and God inviting new people to live new lives of worship.
Nicodemus considered himself spiritually alive by virtue of his religion, spirituality, theology, and morality. But he was likely astounded when Jesus told him plainly, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
You may have been a Christian for some time and yet not grasped your new status in Christ. You may still be intimidated by the domineering character of the tyrant who once ruled over you.
Believers sometimes wrongly assume: “I have sinned; therefore, sin still has authority over me. I cannot possibly have ‘died’ to sin.”
Paul unambiguously contradicts this thinking. Sin has no authority over anyone who is in Christ. You are no longer under its dominion. You have received a new identity. You have died out of that old kingdom. You have been raised through Christ into the new kingdom where He—not sin— reigns. From this vantage point, you can look back to your former king and his kingdom, and say: “You once ruled over me, but no longer. I am a citizen of the kingdom of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He alone reigns over me now.” You may not yet be what one day you shall be; but thank God you are no longer what you once were, Romans 6:17–18.
Acting a miracle is different from working a miracle. If Jesus tells a paralyzed man to get up, and he gets up, Jesus works a miracle. But if I am the paralyzed man and Jesus tells me to get up, and I obey and get up, I act the miracle. If I am dead Lazarus and Jesus commands me to get up, and I obey, Jesus works the miracle, I act the miracle.
Apostle Paul establishes in Romans 3:9 that every human being both Jew and Gentile is under the reign of sin and prior to conversion he is enslaved to sin which results in death (Rom 3:9; Rom 6:6; Rom 6:16). The unbeliever presents himself “willingly” of his own “free will” as an obedient slave to his master King-Sin, “do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey” (Rom 6:16). Sin is personified as a reigning king who exerts his power and dominion over the unbeliever (Rom 5:21; Rom 6:14). Here is the glaring example of every man, woman, and child walking up to serve his master-sin and presenting himself as an obedient slave (Rom 3:10-18). The “natural man” obeys sin’s lusts in his mortal body and the tentacles of sin’s grip ensures that the sinner departs in his behavior from God’s standard of uprightness (Rom 6:12).
Sin’s dominance over the unbeliever controls the will to the point of servitude whereby the sinner is rendered powerless and he conducts himself in direct disobedience to God’s divine law. Sin is willing and able to rule over those who are living in unbelief or “living in the flesh” (Rom 7:5). Cain was “living in the flesh” and God said “sin is crouching at the door and its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain did not rule over sin but sin ruled and reigned over Cain. The point is that there was an inability within Cain to rule over sin. The will of Cain was sold under sin and thereby controlled by his master. The passage does not state that Cain was able to do that which was pleasing to God but that he was “in the flesh” and was not able to please God (Rom 8:8). The “will of man” should never be thought of as “free” outside of Christ’s redemption, “for everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” “so if the Son (Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36). But you will say, “Man has a free-will to choose Christ.” I respond with a question, “What controls the will of man?” To this I answer, “It is the most powerful motivating force which compels it to act.” In Pauline theology “the will of man” is “under sin,” and sin is the influence and controller of it. For this reason Paul says the believer has “been set free from sin” “so that he would no longer be enslaved to sin” “but he has become a slave of God” (Rom 6:18, 6, 22). If man has a “free-will” then it would follow that there would be no need for Christ to set it free, for he would be able to please God without the Holy Spirit.