Monday, June 18, 2012

The Heart of Faith

At the very heart of Christian faith is a simple confession: "Jesus is Lord":

"...God has made Him both Lord and Christ..." (Acts 2:36)

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)

"...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." (Philippians 2:10-11)

What does this mean? It is common to say that it means that Jesus is "Lord of my life," which should be true—as a Christian, I give my life over to Jesus and live for Him, as He died for me. But there is something more fundamental in this confession: it means that Jesus is God.

The proper name of God in the Old Testament is "Yahweh." This name is used over 6000 times in the Old Testament. Sometimes, it refers strictly to God the Father, but at other times, it refers more generally to the Holy Trinity as a single entity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Over the centuries, out of an excessive concern for not violating the Third Commandment ("You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain"; Exodus 20:7), ancient Jewish leaders began pronouncing the name "Adonai" (which literally means "Lord") whenever they read "Yahweh" in Scripture—except on one day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would utter the Name of God aloud inside the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctum of the Temple.

(The practice of not pronouncing "Yahweh" went so far as to insert the vowel sounds for "Adonai" below the consonants "YHWH" in Scripture, leading to the English-language practice of calling God by the name "Jehovah," and to the capitalization of the name "LORD" in the English Old Testament.)

By the time of Jesus, the Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek, and reflecting the practice of the time, the name "Yahweh" was not translated as such directly into Greek, but was rather translated as "Kyrios," which means "Lord." The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and its authors carried over this practice, most notably when they quoted from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, always using "Kyrios" (Lord) in place of the original "Yahweh."

(On the subject of the names of God, when the actual name "God" is used in the English Bible—instead of or beside "LORD" or "Lord"—this is a translation of the Greek "Theos," which translates the Hebrew "Elohim," or more rarely, "El.")

So to the Greek-speaking Jewish world at the time of Jesus, "Kyrios" meant not only "Lord" as in a "lord," but "Lord" as in "Yahweh," the very name of God Himself. Therefore, to confess that "Jesus is Lord" meant not only to say that he is Lord of my life and Lord of all—which is true—but moreover, that Jesus is God: the Son of God—as Peter confessed (Matthew 16:16)—and God Himself, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

To say that "Jesus is Lord" is an affirmation that Jesus Christ is God incarnate in human flesh, who suffered and died for our sins on the Cross, and was raised again on the third day, so that all who call upon His Name will be saved (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13), receiving forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

The realization of this continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and the identity of Jesus Christ with God should deepen our appreciation for the full significance of who Jesus is. At the end of the day, the primary thing that sets Christianity apart from all other beliefs is this unique confession: that Jesus Christ is God: the Son of God, God Himself, God incarnate in human form, who gave Himself to bear our sins upon the Cross, the one mediator between God and man. Everything else is an outworking of that.

(Note: Updated with minor additions, July 5th, 2012.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Fourth Week of Advent

It is now the fourth and final week of Advent, as we look forward to the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Here are the "collects" (opening prayers) for the third and fourth Sundays in Advent, from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer (in modern English):
Lord, we beseech You, give ear to our prayers, and by Your gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our heart, by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, we pray that You will raise up Your power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas through our sins and wickedness we are sorely obstructed and hindered, Your bountiful grace and mercy through the satisfaction of Your Son our Lord may speedily deliver us; to Whom with You and the Holy Spirit be honour and glory, world without end.

"Succour" is not a very commonly used word these days. According to Oxford, it means "assistance and support in times of hardship and distress." In its verb form, it means to "give assistance or aid to" someone, with this example: "prisoners of war were liberated and succoured." So the word carries the sense of aid and rescue in the midst of great distress.

"Satisfaction" connotes the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ upon the Cross for our sins, bearing God's wrath for our sins in our stead, satisfying God's justice and holiness, and being raised on the third day as the sign of the Father's satisfaction with the Son's sacrifice.

Overall, the second prayer carries the sense that from out of the midst of great darkness, set about on every side by our own sinfulness, we cry out to God to come and rescue and deliver us by His grace and mercy: a cry that goes back well over two millennia, long before the time of Jesus, to the days of David's Psalms and the writings of the Prophets, who looked forward to a coming Saviour.

God answered this prayer when Jesus Christ came into the world, taking in human form, living among us, suffering as we suffer, and bearing our sins upon the Cross. He was raised to new life as the firstfruits of the resurrection to come, and it is through Jesus Christ that forgiveness of sins and everlasting life are promised and freely given to all who ask for it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Second Week of Advent

Last Sunday was the second Sunday in Advent. From the 1549 Book of Common Prayer (in modern English):

Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us that we may hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them in such a way that by the patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

God reveals Himself to us through nature (Psalm 19:1-4a), but more particularly through His spoken and written word. The Scriptures record the hopes of the ancient prophets who looked forward to the day when the Messiah would come—the King who would reign forevermore on David's throne—and the fulfilment of those hopes in God's salvation of a people through His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4; Luke 24:44-47).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 2011

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent, the period of time during which Christians begin to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, culminating in Christmas. It is not so much the birth of Jesus in and of itself that we are commemorating, but the earthly incarnation of the eternal Son of God, the promised Messiah.

"Christ" is not Jesus' last name, but His title: it comes from the Greek translation of "Messiah," which in the Hebrew Bible refers to the long promised and awaited King who would reign eternally on the throne of David, the redeemer of all His people from among both Jews and Gentiles:
And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:30-33)

He came not only to establish His Kingdom (which He has inaugurated and which is growing, but which will not come to full fruition until His return), but He also came into the world to redeem people for His Kingdom by bearing their sins upon the Cross and reconciling them to a holy and righteous God:
...Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, 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. 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. (Philippians 2:6-11)

Traditionally, this Sunday marks the beginning of the church year. To quote from Thomas Cranmer's opening prayer for the First Sunday in Advent (in modern English):
Almighty God, give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which Your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and ever. Amen. (source)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Prayer

I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ almost four years ago, in January of 2007. Since then, I've gone through many ups and downs in my walk with Christ. There have been times of great growth in understanding, sanctification, and discipleship; at other times, there has been stagnation, neglect, and drifting.

This past summer was one of the times when I was lax in praying, in reading God's word, in focusing on Christ. I spent most of my time reading and thinking about things that had nothing to do with God or any aspect of Christian faith. As a result, I drifted.

Then, in early September, my wife and I went on one of our periodic trips to South Korea, to visit her family. Oddly, God often uses overseas trips to force a spiritual crisis in my life, and this trip was no exception. While we were there in Korea, something came up from home in Canada that we had to deal with, and it forced me to reconsider my relationship to God, and His relationship to me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How to Love God's Law Without Being Legalistic

I didn't know what it meant to "love God's law" (Psalm 119:97) until two nights ago, when I read one of the articles I linked to in my previous post, John Warwick Montgomery's "The Third Use of the Law," an excerpt from his book The Suicide of Christian Theology.

"The third use of the Law" is a term I had encountered in the past, but hadn't bothered to look up, on the assumption that it was some bit of abstruse, Puritan-era theologizing. Boy, was I ever wrong! It turns out that "the third use of the Law" basically encompasses the whole question of how the Law of God applies to believers—or whether it applies at all.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Law and the Gospel

The delineation of and disinction between Law and Gospel is fundamental to Christian theology. Martin Luther drew a clear divide between the two, essentially identifying all commands of God as "Law" that can we never perfectly fulfill and therefore only condemn us, and all His promises—especially as mediated through the atonement of His Son Jesus Christ—as "Gospel."

There are other, subtly different ways to define the Law and the Gospel, and then different theological positions concerning the relationship between Law and Gospel, and the place of the Law in the life of the believer. These positions appear to reflect to a certain degree the distinctions between different hermeneutical systems—for example, Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and New Covenant Theology.

And none of this is abstract theorizing. If our understanding of what the Gospel is impacts our doctrine of justification, then our understanding of what the Law is impacts our doctrine of sanctification—and therefore how we are to live as believers in a right relationship with God.